History of Oconee County
Oconee County is made up of 186 square miles and is located in northeast Georgia. The state's 137th county was created by a legislative act in 1875 from part of western Clarke County. Oconee County was named for the river flowing along part of its eastern border which comes from a Native American word meaning "spring of the hills." Oconee County came into existence due to the fact that Clarke County's seat was Watkinsville, but was changed to Athens in 1871. Due to demands from western Clarke County residents (now Oconee County), the new Oconee County was created and the county seat was re-established in Watkinsville.
The newly formed Oconee County retained Watkinsville as its seat. It is widely accepted that Robert Watkins, an attorney from Augusta, is the namesake of Watkinsville. The current Oconee County Courthouse (a New Deal project of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration) was built in 1939 to replace a courthouse built in 1875. The latest modification in 1998 more than doubled its size.
In addition to Watkinsville, Oconee County's incorporated communities are Bishop, Bogart, and North High Shoals. Bogart, on the county's northern border, was founded in 1869 and was originally named for Osceola, a Creek-Seminole Indian. The town was renamed Bogart in honor of a railroad agent in 1892.
Bishop (1890), originally known as Greenwood Crossing, was named for local resident W. H. Bishop, one of the county's original councilmen.
North High Shoals (1933), on the southwestern border, was named for a rapid in the nearby Apalachee River.
Points of interest within Oconee County include the Eagle Tavern, located on Main Street in Watkinsville. Built before 1800, the building was renovated by 1820 to serve as a stagecoach inn for Athens-bound travelers. The tavern was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Elder Covered Bridge, built in 1897 and moved to its current location just south of Watkinsville off State Road 15 in the 1920s, was restored during the early 1970s. One of only thirteen remaining wooden covered bridges left in Georgia, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Notable Oconee County residents have included Lottie Moon, who worked as a governess in Farmington before becoming a Southern Baptist missionary to China. The founder of an annual fund drive to support international missions, Moon promoted the mission cause through her writing and establishing of churches and schools in China.
Jeanette Rankin, who bought land in Bogart in the 1920s and in Watkinsville in the 1930s, was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. A pacifist and champion of women's rights, she left her Watkinsville property, "Shady Grove," for the foundation of a charitable trust to fund women's education. The Jeanette Rankin Foundation, based in Athens, remains active.
Source: The New Georgia Encyclopedia; Oconee County