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The Creation of Peach County
The Georgia General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to create Peach County from parts of Houston and Macon counties on July 18, 1924. Georgia voters ratified the proposed amendment on Nov. 4, 1924, creating Georgia's 161st and last new county and ending a long struggle between neighboring communities.
A state historical marker on the courthouse grounds incorrectly cites the county's creation as the day the legislative act proposing the constitutional amendment was approved, but the county was officially born when Georgia voters approved the amendment 77,052 to 31,211. Peach County opened for business on Jan. 1, 1925, and the first commissioners were elected on Jan. 7, 1925.
Fort Valley was established as a trading post by James Abbington Everett in the early 1820s and incorporated as a city in 1856. Not long after its incorporation, the idea of carving a new county out of the north end of Houston County was being discussed.
While nothing happened then, talk of a new county continued through the years and was said to have gained momentum again in the 1880s. Although the source of the statement has never been verified, reportedly there was a rule of thumb in Georgia in the 1800s that every citizen should be within a one-day round trip by horse or wagon from the seat of county government.
In reality, however, other factors were more commonly behind the push to create new counties. Personal disputes and political controversies frequently led to the division of an existing county. Fort Valley residents found it hard to get to the courthouse in Perry and the Flint River created a natural barrier between residents in the north part of Macon County and their county courthouse in Oglethorpe.
Historians say the final and successful effort to create Peach County started in 1914 at a meeting at the home of A.B. Greene on Everett Square attended by community leaders from both Fort Valley and Byron. The movement gained momentum in the years between 1914 and 1922 when the effort erupted into a full scale political war between the communities of Perry and Fort Valley.
With community pride and normal territorial feelings at the center of the debate, the arguments raged over the final population of the affected counties, distribution of land and the actual need for another county.
Even the proposed name sparked arguments. Some residents of the area were apparently outraged that the proponents of the new county would consider naming it for a fruit. How could Georgia possibly start naming counties after agricultural crops? If voters approved another new county, would it be called "Watermelon County?"
Fiercely protective of their power, Houston County leaders transferred ownership of 40,000 acres to Macon County in an effort to persuade Macon County voters to oppose the Peach County amendment. Civic clubs, businesses and local politicians in both counties got involved and vicious letters were circulated debating the issue. A Marshallville merchant who supported the new county was reportedly sent a letter to advising him to "get out of town."
At the state level, the big debate centered on whether or not there was a need for more counties in Georgia. Georgia voters had approved a constitutional amendment in 1904 limiting the number of counties to 145. The next year, the General Assembly created eight new counties, bringing the total number to 145 -- the constitutional limit. Nevertheless, there was continuing pressure to create more counties.
Because an act of the legislature cannot conflict with the state constitution, the only option was to amend the state constitution. Beginning in 1906, lawmakers got around the 145-county limitation by creating new counties through constitutional amendments that were not subject to the limitation. By 1922 there were 160 counties and voters were beginning to question the need for more government.
Nevertheless, the constitutional amendment to create Peach County passed the legislature in 1922 and went on the ballot that fall only to be defeated at the polls. But the supporters of Peach County were undaunted and the battles raged on.
While the history of the effort between 1922 and 1924 is sketchy, Sen. J.E. Davison, Emmet House, Charles Jackson, H.C. Neil, C.L. Shepard and A.J. Evans are credited with helping resolve the differences with voters in Macon and Houston Counties, thus ending the war of words. The legislature approved the amendment in voters went to the polls in November and approved the creation of Peach County with Fort Valley as the county seat.
Georgia's 161st -- and last -- new county was named for the peaches so proudly grown in the area.
Interestingly, the origin of the county seat's name is unclear. One story claims that Everett named it "Fox Valley" but that his writing was misread by officials in Washington, D.C., as "Fort Valley." Another story claims that Everett named the town after his friend Arthur Fort, a Revolutionary War hero from nearby Milledgeville. In any case, it seems that there was never a military fort in the new county.
With the creation of Peach County, Georgia had 16 counties created by constitutional amendment after the limit of 145 counties was set in 1904, but Peach County proved to be the last. Milton and Campbell counties merged with Fulton in 1932, leaving 159 counties. Georgia voters ratified a new constitution in 1945 which set an absolute limit of 159 counties, with an additional provision that no new country could be created except through consolidation of existing counties.
After Peach County's creation in November 1924, supporters worked diligently to open for business in January 1925. The second floor of Slappey's Opera House (later renamed the Austin Theater and then the Peach Theatre) on Main Street was used as the county courthouse. County officials later moved the courthouse around the corner to a former Star and Durant auto dealership on South Macon St. The current courthouse was built in 1936. After a fire in 1969, the courthouse was restored and expanded in the early 1970s. Another addition was built in the 1990s.
For additional information about the history of Peach County, click here to visit the Peach County Historical Society website.