Bainbridge, the seat of Decatur County, is located in southwest Georgia approximately forty miles north of Tallahassee, Florida; sixty miles east of Dothan, Alabama; and sixty miles south of Albany, Georgia. U.S. Highway 84 and U.S. Highway 27 intersect in Bainbridge, which also boasts its own limited access highway.
Bainbridge is located on the Flint River and is one of two “inland ports” in Georgia (the other is Columbus). Native Americans occupied the area for centuries, and a settlement called Pucknawhitla stood on the site of present-day Bainbridge in 1765, when Europeans arrived. The name was changed to Burgess Town, after a European trader who set up a trading post at the settlement, and then to Fort Hughes after a nearby camp. In 1824 the legislature decided the county seat should be named for Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the ship commonly known as “Old Ironsides,” the U.S.S. Constitution, in the War of 1812. Bainbridge is nicknamed “the Oak City” because of its many large oak trees.
According to the 2010 U.S. census the population of Bainbridge was 12,697. The major employment sectors are carpet and fiber manufacturing, agribusiness,glasspress manufacturing, health, and education. Bainbridge State College, a two-year institution of the University System of Georgia, was established in 1970 and opened to students in 1973. Enrollment in 2007 was nearly 2,800.
The historic district encompasses most of downtown Bainbridge and the surrounding streets of antebellum homes. At Bainbridge State there is a nature trail on which are located two historic sites: an old turpentine mill and two rough-hewn stones probably, but not certainly, of Native American origin. The Decatur County Historical Society maintains a museum in the old city hall/fire hall/jail building, which it shares with the Decatur County Council for the Arts. A gazebo on the city square hosts musical performances at Christmas and throughout the year.
Recreational opportunities are abundant. National tennis tournaments and fishing tournaments are held inBainbridge, and water sports facilities are available at the Earle May Boat Basin and nearby Seminole State Park. The boat basin also boasts a performing arts building, several baseball and softball fields, a beach, a petting zoo, a museum, and a riverwalk, with many landscaped holding ponds around surrounded by wooden walkways, lighting, and benches.
During World War II (1941-45) an airport was built in Bainbridge to train pilots. Toward the end of the war, the facility became a camp for German prisoners of war. In the early 1960s Bainbridge State Hospital, a residential facility for the developmentally challenged, took over the property. Today, it is a low-security drug treatment facility.
The Gilbert H. Gragg Library in Bainbridge is the headquarters for the Southwest Georgia Regional Library System, which serves Decatur, Miller, and Seminole counties. As of 2004 the library’s collection included more than 163,000 volumes along with computers and audiovisual materials. Meeting facilities include satellite and computer resources as well. The Southwest Georgia Regional Library System won the National Award for Library Service in 2002.
Bainbridge has a mayor and city council/city manager form of government. It is the hometown of Georgia’s former secretary of state, Cathy Cox.