Louisville, the county seat of Jefferson County, also served as Georgia’s third capital from 1796 until 1807. The town grew as the result of both large-scale immigration to the Georgia upcountry after the American Revolution (1775-83) and the desire of many Georgians to enhance the state’s commercial prosperity. By the mid-1780s the new upcountry settlers outnumbered those in the older coastal counties, and upcountry legislators demanded a state capital in a more western location than Savannah. On January 26, 1786, the assembly passed a law appointing Nathan Brownson, William Few Jr., and Hugh Lawson as commissioners charged with finding a site for the seat of government. Legislators also specified that the new capital would be named Louisville in honor of King Louis XVI of France, America’s Revolutionary War ally.
Organizers envisioned Louisville as a trade center, and Commissioners Brownson, Few, and Lawson purchased 1,000 acres on the south side of Rocky Comfort Creek near the Ogeechee River to take advantage of the river transportation. The original city plan, modeled after Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, included a raised statehouse in the central square, with streets and town blocks radiating out from that focal point and forming right angles.
Georgia’s Revolutionary War debt and the threat of a large-scale conflict with the Creek Nation delayed the official opening of the Louisville statehouse until May 1795, when delegates convened there for a state constitutional convention. In 1796 the Georgia legislature gathered in Louisville amid the political uproar caused by the 1795 Yazoo land fraud. Arguments over the issue frequently spilled out to the streets of the new capital. But political violence did not deter growth. Tobacco and, later, cotton served as the major cash crops during Louisville’s first decade. Merchants brought commercial trade to the town, and city leaders sought to expand the navigational potential of the Ogeechee River.
The legislature briefly considered making Louisville the home of the University of Georgia but decided to build the Jefferson, or Louisville, Academy there instead. It served as one of a series of schools established to train young men for a university education. By the end of the 1790s Louisville had acquired a cosmopolitan atmosphere, offering a coffeehouse, a debating society, and traveling shows, as well as dancing, fencing, and French lessons. Residents kept in touch with events through the State Gazette and Louisville Journal; the Louisville Gazette, which briefly expanded to the Louisville Gazette and Republican Trumpet; the Independent Register; and later, the Louisville Courier. By 1806 the town had grown to nearly 100 homes with approximately 550 free and enslaved inhabitants.
Prominent early residents of the Louisville area include Revolutionary patriot Solomon Wood and Joseph Gabriel Posner, a Polish Jewish immigrant who moved to the town in 1795. Posner operated a thriving mercantile and real-estate business, including a boarding house in which state leaders and residents gathered in the popular “Long Room.” Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, several residents in and around Louisville achieved influential legal and political careers: Roger Lawson Gamble; Mirabeau B. Lamar, who served as the second president of the Texas Republic; and Herschel Johnson, who is buried in the Louisville City Cemetery.
Louisville served as the state capital for ten years. Criticism of the site arose over the vulnerability of its residents to malaria outbreaks, disappointment with the Ogeechee river trade, and the town’s inaccessibility to the growing western population. In the fall of 1807 the state government relocated to Milledgeville, and the arrival of the railroad in the nineteenth century turned economic activity away from the old statehouse square. Residents adopted a linear design for their central business district, following a popular trend in Georgia town development during the 1820s and 1830s. Broad Street emerged as the main business thoroughfare and continues in that function today.
Civil War to the Present
The Civil War (1861-65) put Louisville in the path of Union general William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in late 1864. Although Louisville escaped the brunt of the destruction that took place in other Georgia communities, Federal troops set fire to several houses, the jail, and the courthouse, in addition to ransacking private homes. During Reconstruction (1867-76), citizens of Louisville contended with an uprising in August 1870 headed by Cudjo Fye,also known as Figh or Cudjo Lowery, who formed an association of freedmen to protect their civil rights.
The post–Civil War era brought efforts to improve the quality of life for citizens of Louisville. In 1867 the town formed a library association. In the 1890s the city created a public school system for white children six to eighteen years of age, and a school and an industrial instruction center were provided for the town’s African American students. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration, created as part of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, performed valuable service by revitalizing a dilapidated portion of the town’s Market House, which allegedly was the site of a slave market during the antebellum period.
Today Louisville remains a farming community, with additional sources of income coming from health and social services, the clay-mining industry, retail sales, finance, and education. The town retains several interesting cultural resources, and residents preserve their rich history through the Jefferson County Historical Society. Louisville is also home to the News and Farmer, a respected regional newspaper, and a thriving local artistic community. The Arts Guild of Jefferson County and two art galleries, Emily’s and the Fire House Gallery, both provide outlets for Jefferson County artisans. Furthermore, the town offers an annual spring exhibit of work produced by local and state artists. Other cultural attractions include the Pal Theater on West Broad Street as well as Pansy’s Restaurant and the Old Jefferson Hotel, known today as the Queensborough Building.
In 2003 a satellite campus of Sandersville Technical College (later Oconee Fall Line Technical College) was established in Louisville.