The known history of Conyers and Rockdale County dates back more than 10,000 years, when Native Americans, referred to as the "Mound Builders," made the area their home. The Great Indian Road, or Hightower Trail, in northern Rockdale County served as the boundary between the Creek and Cherokee nations and later became a path for early white settlers during the Revolutionary War era (1775-83).
On November 17, 1864, Morgan's Division, 14th Corps, of the Left Wing of Union general William T. Sherman's troops, camped in the area and set up its headquarters in Conyers, which the general visited. The Union forces were there to destroy the railroad lines from Lithonia to the Yellow River.
Six months later, the Union army, pursuing Confederate president Jefferson Davis, captured Confederate
In 1870 the state legislature created Rockdale County, naming it for the granite strata that produced the rocky hills and dales in the area. Conyers, which had previously been part of Newton County, was included in the new county. By that time Conyers was populated with saloons, stores, a hotel, schools, and one college.
On August 24, 1881, Conyers was incorporated as a city with a mayor and six aldermen. A strong farming community, Conyers had an active Alliance Party, which held the first major demonstration in the city in 1889. By 1912 Conyers had electricity and its first waterworks.
The town was also home to a successful mill community two miles north of "Olde Town" Conyers. In 1902 Frank Milstead founded a cotton mill, Milstead Manufacturing Company, on the site of an old Union Paper mill on the Yellow River. Milstead employed hundreds of workers in a community complete with its own housing, churches, schools, company store, and golf course. In 1904 Fuller Callaway was elected president of Milstead Manufacturing, and the following year the Callaway Company of LaGrange purchased a controlling interest in Milstead Manufacturing. In 1960 Callaway Mills
In 1944 twenty Cistercian or "Trappist" Catholic monks came to Conyers from Kentucky and now reside on a 2,000-acre plantation at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, off Georgia Highway 212. About forty-five monks at the monastery raise revenue by producing and selling bonsai, pottery, fruitcake, fudge, and preserves. The monks hold daily public masses in the abbey church.
The construction of Interstate 20 in the 1960s moved commercial development away from its original location at "Olde Town." The city has preserved Olde Town, with its attorneys' offices, specialty shops, and the original train depot. A 1905 Rogers steam locomotive named "The Dinky," one of three in the world, remains permanently parked there. The revitalization of Olde Town included a new streetscape, pavilion, botanical gardens, and stream.
Conyers has strong links to the movie business. Actors Holly Hunter and Dakota Fanning are former residents. The city was also the filming location of Sweet Home Alabama (2002), False River (1999), and episodes of the television series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85), In the Heat of the Night (1988-94), and I'll Fly Away (1991-93). Other notable residents have included singer Brenda Lee, World Cup soccer player Clint Mathis, and suffragist Sally Gleaton.
The local economy depends on manufacturing, education, health and social services, construction, and the retail trade.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Conyers was 15,195, an increase from the 2000 population of 10,689. With the arrival of Interstate 20 and the development of West Avenue and the interstate's access roads, the city has become an important stopping point for travelers to and from Atlanta.
Margaret G. Barksdale, E. L. Cowan, and Frances A. King, eds., A History of Rockdale County (Conyers, Ga.: n.p., 1978).
Dewey Weiss Kramer, Open to the Spirit: A History of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Conyers, Ga.: The Monastery, 1986).
Rockdale County, Georgia Heritage (Waynesville, N.C.: Don Mills, Inc., 1998).
Frank Dolphus Smith, The Story of Milstead (Conyers, Ga.: n.p., 1998).
Robert E. Luckett Jr., University of Georgia
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