Monticello, the seat of Jasper County and one of two municipalities in the predominantly rural county, lies some sixty-five miles southeast of Atlanta and forty miles north of Macon. Stately homes, tree-lined streets, and the historic square demonstrate the town’s southern character.
Monticello was chosen in 1808 by “commissioners” to be the seat of government for the newly created Randolph County, which was renamed Jasper County in 1812. (The present-day Randolph County was established in 1828.) The chosen site for the town, on lands drawn in 1807 by Isaac Weldon, was atop a small hill (hence “monticello”), “with ridges radiating therefrom except on the north side… [which had a] steep bluff descending into a ravine, from which sprang several bold springs.” Growing up around and from a town square that now forms the intersection of Georgia highways 16, 83, 11, and 212, Monticello’s population was 2,657, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
The square, from which residential streets radiate, forms the center of the historic district and is anchored on one side by the Jasper County Courthouse. The stately building replaced a brick edifice in the center of the square and dates to 1907. Prior to the first brick courthouse, court was convened in a commercial building, with many records kept in the homes of officials.
Opposite the courthouse is city hall, which also includes a visitors’ center. It occupies the renovated former Benton Supply Company, which in its day offered everything from clothing to buggies. The exterior appearance and many of the interior fixtures of the store have been retained. Beyond these government buildings, customers find friendly small-town service at a variety of shops and offices around and off the square.
Commerce in Monticello has evolved as agriculture has changed. Cotton once was king in Jasper County, as in much of the South. Cotton fields were replaced by peach orchards, which have since given way to forestry, cattle, and poultry. Georgia-Pacific, a producer of wood products, is a major economic force in both the town and the county.
Monticello serves as an excellent base from which to enjoy abundant outdoor recreational opportunities. Hunters converge on the area to seek the white-tailed deer in autumn and wild turkey in spring. The Oconee National Forest includes many acres in Jasper County, and both the national forest and the nearby Piedmont Wildlife Refuge are prime hunting areas. Additionally many acres of private land are leased annually. Lake Jackson, at the head of the Ocmulgee River, offers fishing, boating, and other water sports.
The annual Deer Festival celebrates the graceful whitetail, reintroduced into the area in the early 1940s. Locally the performing arts attract a dedicated group of volunteers who stage musicals and dramatic plays at a historic school building, now the Jasper County Community Center.
Jasper County’s public schools are located in Monticello, as is Piedmont Academy. Jasper Memorial Hospital, built under the Hill-Burton Act, has served Monticello and the surrounding county since 1951. One of the original staff members, Frederick Douglass Funderburg, was an African American doctor who, during the flu epidemic of 1938, was called upon to treat white patients as well. Thus began a thriving biracial practice that warranted mention in Time magazine in 1946.