The history of Oconee County, named for the river edging its eastern boundary, parallels the history of many places in the South. Oconee County is now and has always been affected by the cyclic rhythms and seasonal roots of agriculture. The Oconee County red clay soil has produced cotton, sprawling antebellum homes and a love and appreciation of things fine and simple, an attitude familiar to all small town southern folk.
The county seat...Watkinsville...presumably named for Augusta attorney Robert Watkins, was established in 1801 as the county seat of Clarke County until Athens garnered that distinction in 1871. Outraged citizens of Watkinsville demanded a county of their own and a portion of Jackson County ceded by the Cherokee nation to the State of Georgia became Oconee County in 1875. The community initially was called "Big Springs".Watkinsville enjoyed growth in the early days due to its location along a main stagecoach route from Athens to Milledgeville, Georgia's first capital. The Central of Georgia Railroad ran through town and Tanyard Branch tannery, the main employer in town, produced leather from cowhide.
Fort Edwards, a settlement built to protect residents against Creek Indian raids, was remodeled as an inn and renamed The Eagle Tavern. The Tavern hosted many renowned guests, including George Walton, Robert Toombs, Governor Alexander Stephens, and poet Sidney Lanier. The Eagle Tavern is fabled to be responsible for the location of the University of Georgia in Athens instead of Watkinsville, since the tavern and dance halls would prove to be an evil influence and distraction to students.
Other towns and municipalities contained within Oconee County's borders are North High Shoals, Bogart and Bishop. Generations have enjoyed North High Shoals for its beaches, swimming, tubing and white water rapids. North High Shoals is located on the Apalachee River in western Oconee County and was once home to the High Shoals Manufacturing Company. This large cotton plant used about 4000 bales of cotton annually and employed approximately 250 people from 1846 until it burned in 1928.Originally called "Osceola," the name was changed to Bogart for a respected gentleman in the railroad agency since an Osceola already existed along the train route. The town was officially incorporated in 1905 and bustled during the 1900s with banks, hardware stores, two cotton gins, a textile machinery business and Benson's Old Home Fruitcake Company.
Bishop, the smallest incorporated community in the county, fielded an amateur baseball team during the Depression. Bishop, like Bogart, also bustled during the early 1900s with a depot, several stores, a dentist office, bank, blacksmith, cotton gins, hotels and other businesses.
Historically, the county has depended on the success of agricultural pursuits which now result in a total economic impact of $67 million annually. After the boll weevil invasion during the Great Depression years, cotton farming diversified into row cropping, peaches, cattle and swine production, and the profitable poultry industry. The county proudly looks forward to the twenty-first century and the continued legacy of a growing economy and cooperative community spirit.