Perry, the seat of Houston County, is sometimes called the “Crossroads of Georgia” because the Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 41 corridors run north-south and U.S. Highway 341 runs northwest-southeast through the city. In 1986 Perry adopted the council-manager form of government, with seven operating departments. According to the 2010 U.S. census Perry’s population was 13,839.
Originally called Wattsville and founded in 1823 for the purpose of conducting the county’s legal affairs, the town was placed in the geographic center of Houston County, which was then much larger than it is today. The town’s name was changed to Perry in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a hero of the War of 1812 (1812-15). On December 9, 1824, the Georgia legislature approved the incorporation of Perry, the first official town in Houston County.
Perry’s original limits extended one-half mile in each direction from the center of the public square, except where Big Indian Creek formed a natural boundary to the north. Perry’s first industries were gristmills, sawmills, and cotton gins. As county seat, however, Perry was also settled by lawyers, doctors, ministers, teachers, store owners, and shopkeepers. People traveled there from throughout the county to conduct business. Until the mid–twentieth century evidence of this earlier time could be seen in the placement of parking meters at the high curbs where hitching posts had formerly stood.
Perry’s newspaper, the Houston Times-Journal, established in 1870 as the Houston Home Journal, is the county’s legal organ. In 1969 Mildred Evans Warren, writer of the paper’s “Cook’s Nook” column, published The Art of Southern Cooking. This book won national acclaim and remains in print.
Education has always been important to the people of Perry. In 1824, the year in which the town was chartered, the Georgia legislature also granted a charter to the Houston County Academy of Perry. Today Perry boasts seven public schools and one private school. The original Perry High School, the oldest brick school in the county, is now home to the Houston County Board of Education and contains an exhibit honoring one of Perry’s most famous citizens, retired U.S. senator Sam Nunn.
The early twentieth century brought modernization to Perry: the first telephone was installed in 1903, crystal radios appeared in 1905, and electric lighting came to the town in 1912. Several movie theaters opened during this period, with the Roxy advertising the first sound movie in 1927.
Today, Robins Air Force Base, just northeast of Perry, is the city’s largest employer. Perry has also expanded its industrial base to include the Frito-Lay Company, which makes snack foods, and Riverwood International, which makes paper packaging.
Perry’s crossroads location also makes tourism an important part of the economy. The city has always had many inns and hotels, catering first to stagecoach and then to railroad travelers. Since the opening of Interstate 75 in the early 1960s on Perry’s west side, travelers can choose among the typical chain motels and fast-food restaurants that one encounters at any interstate exit. Those in the know, however, seek out the New Perry Hotel. Facing the Houston County Courthouse, the New Perry Hotel was built in 1925, on the site of the original 1870 Perry Hotel. Known in Perry as “the Hotel,” this establishment has been famous for its traditional southern cooking since the 1920s, when U.S. Highway 41 was paved from Tennessee to Florida. In the 1970s travelers sometimes shared the dining room with U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s mother, Lillian Carter, or “Miss Lillian,” and her friends on excursion from nearby Americus.
Perry has always had its share of beautiful homes and architecturally interesting churches. Azaleas, camellias, and dogwoods are abundant. Downtown Perry underwent a facelift around the turn of the twenty-first century and now offers many specialty shops and a new welcome center. Visitors may also take walking tours of historic homes and sites.
Other attractions that draw large gatherings to Perry are the 1,100-acre Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, home of the official state fair in Octoberand of numerous livestock and horse events; and the twice yearly Mossy Creek Barnyard Festival, famous throughout the Southeast for its artists, craftsmen, and entertainers.