Hancock County was created in 1793. Official records dating from 1795, the year Sparta was established, remain in the county courthouse. The town possibly got its name after one observer noted that the frontiersmen involved in the Creek Indian wars (1811-15) fought like ancient Spartans. Another version of the name's origin comes from county historian Forrest Shivers, who found that the name first appeared in correspondence dated July 4, 1794, when concerned citizens gathered for a patriotic celebration and addressed a report to U.S. president George Washington. The gathering place had previously been called "Major Abercrombie's."
Major Charles Abercrombie laid out the town from his own lands in 1795, and his former home still stands on Maiden Lane. Rabun Street, named for Matthew Rabun, the father of Georgia governor William Rabun, became known as Maiden Lane when Sparta's Female Model School was organized there in 1831.
William Terrell's magnificent Federal house still adorns the entrance to Sparta from the north. In addition to assembling a library for the state legislature and establishing at the University of Georgia the first "generously endowed" agricultural professorship in the United States, Terrell was a founder and the first president of the Hancock Planters Club, one of the earliest such organizations in the South. Terrell died on July 4, 1855, and is buried in Sparta's historic cemetery.
The cotton culture continued to be the mainstay of Hancock County's economy after the Civil War. David Dickson, Georgia's leading planter for years, found ways to employ freedmen and again became wealthy. He died in 1885, leaving his estate to his daughter Amanda America Dickson, whose mother had been a household slave.
Sparta grew during the early twentieth century, acquiring commercial banks, warehouses, cotton gins, and a textile mill. During this era of prosperity, many remarkable homes were built in town. In the early 1900s the banker John D. Walker built the Walker-Moore house on Maiden Lane in the modern style of the Greene Brothers, who were early-twentieth-century California architects. In 1906 the Burwell-Goss house, a Neoclassical columned mansion on Hamilton Street, was built. Telephones, electricity, and municipal water and sewerage also came to Sparta early in the new century.
The 2010 U.S. census recorded the population of Sparta as 1,400, a decrease from the 2000 population of 1,522. Between 1990 and 2000 the city's population decreased by 11 percent, while Georgia's overall population grew by 26.4 percent. One reason for Sparta's loss of population may be the decline of small-town trading centers.
Sparta's economy is based on public payrolls (including a large staff at the state prison), welfare, and such small businesses as the French firm Saint Gobain Desjonqueres, which produces hand-painted perfume bottles. Portions of the county near Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair draw hundreds of hunters each year, and Georgia highways 16 and 15, which run through the county, are designated scenic routes.
The Hancock County Center, a satellite campus of Oconee Fall Line Technical College,
Points of interest include the Sparta-Hancock Museum, the Sparta-Hancock County Historical Society, and the Historical Room in the Sparta-Hancock County Library.
Kent Anderson Leslie, Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson, 1849-1893 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995).
John Rozier, Black Boss: Political Revolution in a Georgia County (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982).
John Rozier, The Houses of Hancock, 1785-1865 (Decatur, Ga.: privately printed, 1996).
John Rozier, ed., The Granite Farm Letters: The Civil War Correspondence of Edgeworth and Sallie Bird (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988).
Forrest Shivers, The Land Between: A History of Hancock County, Georgia, to 1940 (Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co., 1990).
John Rozier, Emory University
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