History of Newnan
The Muscogee/Creek Indians are believed to be the very first settlers of the Newnan and Coweta County area. Named by Scotch-Irish settlers because of the numerous creeks surrounding the area, the Creek Indians inhabited the western part of Georgia from the Ocmulgee River to the Chattahoochee River. Most famously of the Native American Trails in Coweta County was McIntosh Trail—a trading route which ran from Chief William McIntosh's home at Indian Springs to his 640-acre reserve in Carroll County near Whitesburg. It was Chief McIntosh who played an instrumental role in changing Coweta lands from Native American control to the white settlers' hands. In March 1825, Chief William McIntosh signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which transferred land, including that of Coweta County, over to white settlers. The signing was controversial, as Chief McIntosh was murdered at his home on the McIntosh reserve on May 1, 1825, by his fellow tribesman.
The signing of the Treaty of Indian Springs spurred the removal of Native Americans from the area in a tragic event known as the Trail of Tears. It also made way for the Georgia General Assembly Acts to create five counties from this land, which was then divided into parcels and given away in the Georgia Land Lottery. Coweta lands were distributed in the Fifth Land Lottery in Georgia held in 1827. With the land lottery, eligible persons were allowed to register for their names to be drawn. If their name was pulled, they became landowners upon payment of a grant fee of $18.
After Coweta's land was ceded from the Muscogee and parsed out through the lottery system, the area sustained much growth and influx of white settlers. In 1826, Bullsboro became the first county seat for the area. In 1828, the City of Newnan, the current county seat, was incorporated. The city was named after North Carolina native General Daniel Newnan, a decorated soldier who later became Georgia Secretary of State and a United States Congressman.
The new county seat of Newnan and its downtown district became a popular location for business as doctors, lawyers, farmers, and merchants moved into the area. Throughout the mid-1800s, Newnan became a prosperous town as the cotton and manufacturing industry, including the well-known R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company, developed and grew. In 1851, leading citizens of the town invested in constructing the Atlanta and West Point Railroad Company, which brought a railroad system through downtown Newnan. The new rail system brought more prosperity and economic growth to the city, to the point that Newnan, at one time, was one of the wealthiest towns per capita in the United States.
By the onset of the Civil War, Newnan was well-established as the "City of Homes," known for its tremendous and beautiful homes despite being a small town. These large homes, many of which were plantations, housed both free, white citizens and Black slaves. By the time of the 1860 census, 14,703 people were living in Coweta County—7,499 were free, white citizens and 7,248 were slaves. The county's agricultural nature and its reliance on labor contributed to Coweta's favorable vote to secede from the Union in 1861. In 1863, Newnan was selected as a hospital site for the war—tending to both Union and Confederate soldiers. In July 1864, the town saw its only direct military conflict with the Battle of Brown's Mill, which resulted in Union General E.M. McCook's defeat by Confederate General Joseph Wheeler.
The City of Newnan underwent a significant reconstruction period after the Civil War, rebuilding damaged homes, buildings, and farmland. However, by the turn of the century, Newnan once again entered a period of prosperity. The early 1900s saw the boom of the cotton and manufacturing industry. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, Coweta County was home to several mills, including the Newnan Cotton Mill, the East Newnan Cotton Mill, the Newnan Hosiery Mill, the Arnall Mills, and the Arnco Mills. In 1934, Newnan mill workers participated in the General Textile Strike, with the first strikers arrested from the East Newnan Cotton Mills and Arnall Mills. During the strike, the Georgia National Guard and local civil authorities arrested picketers. They sent them to detention camps at Fort McPherson until the end of the strike three weeks later.
A development of Newnan's formal education system paralleled the city's economic and industrial advancement. Formal education began in Coweta County in Newnan in 1828 when Dr. Palmore taught school in a log cabin that also served as the courthouse. Throughout the early and mid-1800s, preparatory schools like the Male Academy and Mount Pleasant School were established. In 1853, Newnan became the site of the first college to offer a Masters of Arts degree to women with the opening of College Temple. In 1887, the education system changed with the development of the Newnan City School System and the opening of the first public high school—Temple Avenue School (now known as Newnan High School). The opening of public high school marked a series of change throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with a move from all public to private schools, the development of a school system, the consolidation of small city high school into larger ones, and the opening and subsequent integration of schools for both white and Black citizens. Today, Coweta County is home to 31 schools serving approximately 23,000 students. The Coweta County School System has a total of 19 elementary schools, one pre-K school, six middle schools, three high schools, one career-based charter school, and an alternative school, all of which are high-performing.
Like much of the country during the 1930s, Coweta County and Newnan suffered an economic downturn due to the Great Depression. Agriculture took a significant hit, with the county's farms being valued at one-third less in 1935 than in 1930. Diversification and industrial change became necessary to survive the downtown and also address the needs of WWII in the 1940s. Throughout the war, local citizens not only participated in efforts to support the soldiers, but several joined the military to fight overseas.
It was during the 1940s that Coweta County saw its most famous court case, memorialized in Margaret Ann Barnes' book Murder in Coweta County. In 1948, prominent landowner John Wallace was held without bond in the Coweta County jail for the murder of William Turner. Due to a tip from famous Meriwether County psychic Mayhayley Lancaster and the testimony of Albert Brooks and Robert Lee Gates, Wallace was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. The case was highly unusual because Wallace was one of the richest men at the time ever to be given the death penalty, and his case was the first in Georgia where a white man was given the death sentence upon the testimony of two Black men.
Today, Newnan continues to be a thriving community that values its commerce, education, and arts. Carrying tradition over from its creation, downtown Newnan is still home to shops, restaurants, and businesses and remains the centralized location for connections and community. Newnan's history runs deep, and even in modern times, the community can see influences from the past. Home to Piedmont Hospital and the Cancer Treatment Centers, Newnan is still very much a hospital town, and the county is still an active place for agriculture and manufacturing. As the city has grown, so have our interests. Coweta County is now also known for its music, arts, and movie, being the hometown to author Lewis Grizzard and Erskine Caldwell, musicians Alan Jackson, Charles Wadsworth, and Hamilton Bohannon, and site to popular television series like The Walking Dead. With such a vast array of interests and a population of 148,508 in Coweta County and 39,019 in Newnan, the area has undoubtedly grown and expanded since its beginnings. However, Coweta County's history remains a rich and meaningful past for all its citizens to treasure, and Newnan still maintains its small-town charm that has been present for centuries!