Hart County

When it was carved out of Elbert and Franklin counties in 1853, Hart became the only county in Georgia named for a woman. Nancy Hart was a rugged and volatile frontierswoman and a fierce patriot whose real and mythic exploits included both harassing and, when feasible, shooting those Tories who had the misfortune to venture close to her cabin near the boundaries of present-day Elbert and Wilkes counties.
Hart County's proximity to South Carolina meant that its commercial and demographic ties to the South Carolina upcountry
sometimes seemed as strong as its political ties to Georgia. With Hartwell serving as its county seat and the center of local trade and crop processing, Hart followed an economic pattern fairly typical of Georgia's Piedmont counties. When the boll weevil crisis hit just ahead of the Great Depression, the county's population fell from roughly 18,000 in 1920 to scarcely 15,000 a decade later; it would be a half-century before the county regained its 1920 population levels. As the cotton industry declined after World War II (1941-45), many Hart County residents drifted away from farming and into local apparel and textile plants.
Perhaps the most momentous event in the county's history was the construction of Hartwell Dam. The dam converted the Savannah River and some of its tributaries into Lake Hartwell, which, with nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline, would become one of the largest man-made bodies of water east of the Mississippi River. Construction began in 1955 and concluded in 1963, bringing in many new workers known to locals, sometimes good-naturedly and sometimes not, as "the dam people."
Visions of surging prosperity danced in the heads of local boosters, but although the county clearly benefited from an influx of "lake people," many of them proved initially to be weekenders, and the local population grew by less than 4 percent in the decade after the lake was completed. The population expanded by 30 percent between 1970 and 2000, however, as the county finally began to attract more permanent residents, especially retirees from Atlanta and the North.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Hart County is 25,213, an increase from the 2000 population of 22,997.
Recent job losses in the apparel industry have tied the county's future even more tightly to tourism and in-migration by new and more affluent residents. In some cases this trend has sparked conflicts over taxes and land use. Poultry companies have encouraged rural Hart County residents to construct substantial numbers of chicken houses, and occupants of nearby homes and subdivisions have begun to define an "ill wind" as any that blows from the direction of the chicken farm.
There are also the predictable political tensions between officials of Hartwell, whose population is slightly smaller than it was forty years ago, and representatives of a relatively fast growing county whose residents want the same services available to those who live in town. Although uneven growth, clashing lifestyles, and inadequate public utilities do not respond to the direct and decisive tactics that Nancy Hart employed against the Tories, her legendary courage and determination can well be applied to the solution of these contemporary problems.
Prominent natives of the county include J. J. Brown, the state's eighth agriculture commissioner, and writer Terry Kay.


Further Reading
John William Baker, History of Hart County, 1933, 3d ed. (Fernandina Beach, Fla.: Wolfe, 2000).

George M. Rooks Jr., The Hart of Georgia: A History of Hart County, Georgia, ed. Shirley Kaufhold (Hartwell, Ga.: Savannah River Genealogical Society, 1992).
Cite This Article
Cobb, James C. "Hart County." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 20 January 2015. Web. 27 January 2015.
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