In the late 18th century, a trading settlement on the banks of the Oconee River called Cedar Shoals stood where Athens is located today. On January 27, 1785, the Georgia General Assembly granted a charter by Abraham Baldwin for the University of Georgia as the first state-supported university. Sixteen years later, in 1801, a committee from the university’s board of trustees selected a site for the university on a hill above Cedar Shoals in what was then Jackson County. On July 25, John Milledge, one of the trustees and later governor of Georgia, bought 633 acres (256 ha) from Daniel Easley and donated it to the university. Milledge named the surrounding area Athens after the city that was home to the academy of Plato and Aristotle in Greece.
Downtown Athens, looking down College Avenue towards Broad Street
Athens officially became a town in December 1806 with a government made up of a three-member commission. The university continued to grow, as did the town, with cotton mills fueling the industrial and commercial development. Athens became known as the “Manchester of the South” after the city in England known for its mills. In 1833 a group of Athens businessmen led by James Camak, tired of their wagons getting stuck in the mud, built one of Georgia’s first railroads, the Georgia, connecting Athens to Augusta by 1841, and to Marthasville (now Atlanta) by 1845.