Clayton County, located just south of Atlanta, is one of the smallest counties in the state, with an area of only 143 square miles. On November 30, 1858, the state legislature created Clayton County from parts of Fayette and Henry counties, making it the 125th county in the state. Clayton County is named for Augustin Smith Clayton, a Virginia native who moved with his family to Georgia as a child. He attended the University of Georgia and graduated in 1804. Clayton helped compile the law statutes of Georgia, served three terms as a judge of the Western Circuit, was a member of the Electoral College, and served in the U.S. Congress from 1831 to 1835.

After the Revolutionary War (1775-83) many veterans were given land bounties in Georgia. In the Treaty of Indian Springs (1821), the Creeks ceded their land to the state, and settlers from other parts of Georgia and southern coastal states moved into the area.

Jonesboro, the county seat, was originally called Leaksville but was renamed in 1845 after Colonel Samuel Goode Jones, a civil engineer with the Macon and Western Railroad Company, who also laid out the street plan for the city. Railroads played a tremendous role in improving Georgia’s development in the 1830s and 1840s. Under the leadership of Governor Wilson Lumpkin, the “father of Georgia’s intricate rail system,” in 1846 a railroad connected Jonesboro with stops in Morrow Station (later Morrow), Quick Station (later Forest Park), and Rough and Ready (later Mountain View).

Forest Park Depot
Forest Park Depot

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

One of the most historic moments of the Civil War (1861-65) for Clayton County was the Battle of Jonesboro, which began on August 31, 1864. This was the climax of the Atlanta campaign. Union troops seized control of the railroad, and all supplies to the Atlanta home front were cut off. Many of the Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Jonesboro are buried in the Patrick R. Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.

Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Memorial Cemetery
Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Memorial Cemetery

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

The twentieth century brought growth in transportation and higher education. Clayton County is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport and the state’s largest employer center, with a workforce of more than 56,000. It also has a commuter bus service known as C-Tran. Clayton State University, founded in 1969 as Clayton Junior College, is located in the city of Morrow. Spivey Hall, one of the Southeast’s premier recital halls, is on the Clayton State campus. In addition, the Georgia Archives moved to Morrow from downtown Atlanta in the spring of 2003. One area that remains as a quiet and undisturbed haven for wildlife is the 146-acre Reynolds Nature Preserve.

Spivey Hall
Spivey Hall

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

The Battle of Jonesboro is reenacted annually during the Fall Festival. Two plantation houses, Stately Oaks and Ashley Oaks, are available for tours and hold special holiday events. Clayton County is also the site of the Road to Tara Museum, which houses the world’s largest permanent Gone With the Wind exhibition. Jonesboro’s survival from the devastation of the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction provided much of the background for Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

Battle of Jonesboro Reenactment
Battle of Jonesboro Reenactment

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Clayton County is 259,424, an increase from the 2000 population of 236,517. In addition to Jonesboro and Morrow, other incorporated cities in the county are Forest Park, Lake City, Lovejoy, and Riverdale.

During the 1996 Olympic Games, Jonesboro hosted the beach volleyball competition at Atlanta Beach in Clayton County International Park. The Clayton County Water Authority also attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see the county’s natural land application process for the treatment of wastewater. The system purifies the wastewater and, at the same time, fertilizes the land; it also produces palletized fertilizer for the marketplace.

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Clayton County Courthouse

Clayton County Courthouse

This Historic Clayton County Courthouse was built in 1898 and designed by J.W. Golucke in the Romanesque style. Today, the restored building is used as office space. 

Photograph by Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Reynolds Nature Preserve

Reynolds Nature Preserve

The W. H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve is named for Judge William Reynolds, who donated 130 acres of wetlands to Clayton County in 1976. In 1997 the preserve obtained an additonal sixteen acres adjacent to the original property, including primarily hardwood forests, as well as ponds, wetlands, streams, designated picnic areas, and four miles of well-defined footpaths. The preserve promotes environmental education and is open to the public.

Courtesy of UGA Archway Partnership

Forest Park Depot

Forest Park Depot

This depot at Forest Park, shown circa 1900, was one of the stops along the railroad to Jonesboro, in Clayton County.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #clt056-84.

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Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Memorial Cemetery

Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Memorial Cemetery

The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Memorial Cemetery was named for the general whose remains were brought from St. John's Cemetery, Ashwood, Tennessee, in 1870. In 1891 a marble column was dedicated in his honor at the cemetery, and in 1892 this granite shaft was dedicated to the Confederate dead.

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Spivey Hall

Spivey Hall

The visual centerpiece of Clayton State University's Spivey Hall is the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Pipe Organ, a 79-rank, 3-manual, 4,413-pipe organ, built and installed by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy.

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Battle of Jonesboro Reenactment

Battle of Jonesboro Reenactment

The Battle of Jonesboro reenactment at Stately Oaks Plantation takes place every second weekend in October.

Courtesy of Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Riverdale Depot

Riverdale Depot

The Riverdale depot of the Southern Express Company railroad system was dismantled in 1939. Pictured, left to right: Henry McElroy; A. O. Bowles, railway agent and station master; and M. Vassa McConnell, postmaster. Leon Hancock on roof.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, # clt027-84.

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Main Street in Jonesboro, 1890

Main Street in Jonesboro, 1890

Main Street in Jonesboro, in Clayton County, is pictured in 1890. The Cannon & Evans Drug Company is on the corner.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, # clt060-84.

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Destroyed Railroad, 1864

Destroyed Railroad, 1864

Destroyed railroad in Forest Park circa 1864, during the Civil War.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
clt050-84.

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Bill Lee and Calvin Smyre

Bill Lee and Calvin Smyre

Bill Lee (left), one of the longest-serving members of the state House of Representatives, converses with Representative Calvin Smyre in 1988. A native of Clayton County, Lee served as chairman of the House Rules Committee.