Cordele is located in the heart of Georgia, 60 miles south of Macon and 100 miles north of the Florida state line. Founded in 1888, Cordele is the seat of Crisp County. (Cordele was originally part of Dooly County, until Crisp County was created from the southern part of Dooly in 1905.) Touted as the “Watermelon Capital of the World,” the city was the product of intersecting railroads in an era dominated by westward expansion and rail commerce and travel. Cordele was named after Cordelia, the eldest daughter of Colonel Samuel Hawkins (1835-1905), president of the Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery Railroad.
The area that would become Cordele served as the temporary capital of Georgia in the final days of the Confederacy, as the Civil War (1861-65) neared an end. Governor Joseph E. Brown fled the state capitol in Milledgeville to escape Sherman’s army, which was on its March to the Sea. Brown sought refuge at his family’s farmhouse, known as Dooly County Place, which served as the seat of the state government for a few days. In 1890 Dooly County Place became the Suwannee Hotel, which survived until 1994, when it was destroyed by fire.
Cordele is situated near the banks of the Flint River, and in the early 1920s a group of townspeople proposed building a dam on the river. By 1930 the citizens of Cordele were the owners and operators of the first county-owned electric system in the United States. The hydroelectric system is still in use and benefits the residents of Cordele and Crisp County. The dam also created Lake Blackshear, six miles west of Cordele. The lake serves as a major recreational area and lures thousands of visitors to the area for waterskiing, boating, swimming, and fishing. Throughout the year many professional fishing tournaments are held at Lake Blackshear, which is regionally famous for its abundant waters.
The Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club is located in Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park and includes military vehicle displays, a golf course, camping facilities, and a man-made beach area that stretches along the bank of the Flint River. In 1999 the state began to purchase portions of the old Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery (SAM) mainline track and rehabilitate the tracks for future operation. The SAM Shortline began to run again in 2002 and now treks across the middle of Georgia on regular trips from Veterans Memorial State Park in Cordele to Americus, ending in Plains. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources operates excursions, several of which leave from stops in downtown Cordele and Veterans Memorial State Park, to various points along the historic mainline of the SAM tracks.
Approximately 75 percent of the land area in Cordele and Crisp County is used for agriculture, and agricultural endeavors bring nearly $50 million to the area annually. Major crops are melons, peaches, peanuts, and pecans. Livestock and forestry products are also important to the economy. More than 125 million pounds of watermelons and more than 2 million pounds of cantaloupes, on average, make their way annually from the Cordele Farmer’s Market to markets and tables across the country.
Cordele’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. census, was 11,147. The writer Mac Hyman, author of No Time for Sergeants, was born in Cordele.