Like Washington, D. C.,
Milledgeville is a city built to be capital and named in honor of Georgia governor John Milledge, whose family dates back to the original colonists of Georgia.
The dramatic western push of the settlers had not been anticipated by the government of Georgia. When they built Louisville in 1795 settlements did not extend past the Oconee River. By 1803, however, the Oconee was in Georgia and the western push was expected to continue. The state ordered plans for a new city, and organized a commission, which in a report to the General Assembly suggested a site on the Oconee River. Milledgeville honored the current governor, who had also been a major player in the decision to move the capital west.
This was not, however, the first settlement on this site. Ten years prior Elijah Clarke selected it as the site of his ill-fated Trans-Oconee Expedition. Later a string of "fortified trading posts" was established on the west side of the Oconee to trade with the Creek (and protect settlers to the east). In 1797 Fort Wilkerson (no longer standing) was established just south of the city limits.
At a cost of $80,000 (some sources note the cost as $60,000, which was the original amount allocated to the project) the state completed the city, moving there in 1807, lock, stock and constitution.
In 1814 the towns board of commissioners was replaced by a mayor, a bank was added in 1815 and the State Penitentiary opened in 1817. Over the years Milledgeville and nearby towns like Eatonton began to expand, thanks to the influx of commerce. A building boom in the early 1820's was fueled by a good economy statewide.
Additional work and renovations were completed on the capital building in 1827 and 1838, adding wings and a portico, and other work on the building repaired damage from two fires. In 1839 the state completed an executive mansion, also in Milledgeville. A rail line to the city was approved by the state legislature the same year (completed, 1852). At this time the city began a general downturn, suffering more from external economic conditions than anything local. During the 1850's the local economy improved, thanks to arrival of the railroad.
During the war years Milledgeville was filled with prominent Confederates. Vice-President Alex Stephens, disenchanted with the regime of Jefferson Davis, returned to Georgia and was frequently seen with Governor Joseph E. Brown. Robert Toombs, who also was disenchanted with President Davis was also a common sight. When William Tecumseh Sherman left Kingston, Georgia
at the start of the "March to the Sea
, everybody simply assumed that Milledgeville was one destination of the journey. They were correct, although Sherman did not destroy the buildings in the Georgia capital.
Following Presidential Reconstruction Georgia had two "governors," one political and one military, and the military chose to operate out of Atlanta because of the well-developed transportation system in the central rail hub. When Gov. Charles Jenkins fled the state the military governor ordered the political capital to Atlanta.
Post-capital Milledgeville was a destitute town. It took years for it to recovered, changing from a regional commercial and political center to an agri-business community. Luckily, the state did maintain a number of the established facilities, making it easier for the town to survive.