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Home >> County Facts >> History of Rockdale County

History of Rockdale County

In the early 1700s, the first settlers came to the area, which later became Rockdale County, and built their cabins along Hightower Trail. This area was officially opened to settlers in 1816. Soon a railroad was built to connect Augusta and Marthasville (now Atlanta).

Conyers, first know as Conyers Station, grew along this railroad. The town was named for Dr. W. D. Conyers, a Covington banker.

The town's first inhabitant was a blacksmith by the name of Holcombe, who owned a lot of land where the town now stands and ran a shop nearby. He was bitterly opposed to the railroad's coming and when the grading reached his land, legend has it that he swore he would kill the first man who struck a pick in his dirt.

Dr. Conyers happened upon the scene and found Mr. Holcombe walking up and down the lot making his threats. Dr. Conyers offered to buy the blacksmith's land.  Mr. Holcombe agreed on seven hundred dollars, sold the land to Dr. Conyers, who donated it to the railroad.  The railroad authority named the place for Dr. Conyers for negotiating the land transaction so simply.  Dr. Conyers was one of the railroad directors and was very active in its construction. He gave the property for the right-of-way and the depot to the railroad.

Conyers had a population of 400 in 1854, and its citizens wanted the town to be incorporated. A Bill was introduced and passed in the Legislature; it provided that the boundary line would be ½ mile from the depot. On February 16, 1854, Conyers became a town. The Charter was amended on October 26, 1870, extending the boundary one mile from the depot of the Georgia Railroad.

The Reconstruction Period, 1867 - 1877, was one of tremendous growth. Reports showed an increase in population from 300 to 2,000 people. The rapid growth and growing independence led to the desire to separate from what was known as the "Upper End" from Newton County. This impetus led to the creation of Rockdale County. John F. Hardin and John Harris of Newton County were elected to the Legislature. Being very much in favor of forming a new county, the two men drew up a bill, and Mr. Harris introduced it. The bill, creating a new county from Newton and Henry counties, was approved October 18, 1870. It was stipulated that the first election of county officials would take place in Conyers on the first Wednesday in February. The first election in Rockdale County was held in Dr. J. A. Stewart's Drug Store. The first voter at the polls was an ex-slave named Churchfield.

A law, that authorized the ordinanry to levy taxes and sell bonds to raise money to build a courthouse, was passed soon after the county was created. For many years Rockdale County was governed by a Board of County Commissioners. The act creating the county provided for the erection of a courthouse to be carried out by the commissioners. The Board could not agree on a suitable location for the building. Finally in a 3-2 verdict, they officially decided on the location of the building. The two dissenting voters rendered their resignation on November 7, 1871. The remaining three commissioners signed a contract with a contractor to build the courthouse. The lot was secured and a courthouse was erected on it. This building cost the citizens $500. The courthouse was a two-story, brick Georgian structure with a center hall and adjoining rooms.  The courthouse was completed on June 29, 1872 and dedicated in July.

This was the first of three courthouse buildings erected in the county.  In 1939, the original building was demolished and replaced by another brick building on the same lot. Following the phenomenal growth of Rockdale County during the 1960's, it soon became apparent that existing facilities were inadequate, and plans were made for a larger courthouse building adjacent to the 1939 structure. Rockdale County voters approved a Bond Referendum in excess of one million dollars for a new courthouse. This three-story brick building was erected in 1974, and is connect to the existing courthouse, which still stands in Olde Town Conyers.

On January 20, 1872 the commissioners hired Mr. Addison Riley to build a jail for $2,490. This was a rock building completed March 1872. Unitl this time law breakers were jailed in Newton County or in a calaboose at Costley's Mill. In 1897 a red brick jail was built on Milstead Avenue, and that jail served for 71 years.

A new jail was built in 1968, which served as a full time detention center/jail for over 30 years.  The current detention center/jail was built in 2001 and now serves all of Rockdale County.

Rockdale County became the 133rd county of the state and now ranks 158th (out of 159) in size. Its boundaries have been changed several times. The county is bounded on the north by Gwinnett and Walton counties, on the south by Newton, and on the west by Henry and DeKalb counties. It covers 128 square miles.

Conyers continued to grow, and on August 24, 1881, Conyers became a city, with the office of mayor and six aldermen. The county created by Act of the Legislature October 18, 1870, is named for Rockdale Church, so named for the fine underlying granite strata. 

Electricity was brought to Rockdale County in 1912 by Mr. Gus Flake who owned the Panola Light and Power Company. After several years the Georgia Power Company took over this utility and continues to furnish power to the county.

The first water works came to Conyers in 1912; the water was pumped from an artesian well into the water tower which still stands beside The Main Street School (Milstead). Statistics say that this water had superior ratings from the state laboratory.

In March of 1941, an act of the General Assembly abolished the six member board of commissioners to a one-man board with an advisory board. During the 1960's many new departments were added to the county government. The county police department was established in November 1962. The Rockdale Planning Commission was organized in 1965. The zoning ordinance was adopted in 1966.

In 1977 House Bill 610 was written and maneuvered through the Georgia legislature. The legislation created the three-man commission form of government for Rockdale County. In May, voters in the county went to the polls and approved the new multi-man commission. On July 1, the Justice Department overturned the multi-man bill and cancelled the July 19 election. On September 9 the Justice Department withdrew its objection to the multi-man commission. Members assumed seats on the new commission on December 1, 1977.

Information provided by:
"A History of Rockdale County" [1978]