Augusta, GA: A Historical Lookback
Augusta, GA, was established in 1735 by James Olgethorpe. After establishing Savannah, he sent troops to further explore land adjacent to the Savannah River. These troops were led by Noble Jones, one of the original settlers of Georgia. (Augusta residents may recognize this name as the name of a popular downtown Augusta restaurant, whose name pays homage to this man.) Thirty years later, during the American Revolution, Augusta spent a brief period as the capital of Georgia. (In 1868, Atlanta became the official capital of Georgia, which remains today.) In 1828, Augusta became home to the Medical Academy of Georgia. Today, the school is known as the Medical College of Georgia, and it remains one of the few public medical universities in the US.
Augusta quickly grew in relevance with the construction of the Augusta Canal, which began in 1845 and was completed in 1847. The Augusta Canal provided water, transportation and power, drawing industry to the area. Northern business owners quickly realized that Augusta was a much less expensive area to operate a business than its comparable northern areas. Textiles was one of the primary industries drawn to the area. Today, the Augusta Canal continues to provide water, transportation and power, though most residents associate the Augusta Canal with the recreational activities it offers, both on the extensive trail system developed alongside it and on the water itself. For an indepth look at the history of the Canal, including boat tours on the Canal itself, visit the Augusta Canal Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill. Though the Canal was never abandoned, many of the industrial buildings were abandoned or fell into disrepair in response to changing business climates through the years. Recent years have seen multiple buildings revitalized and repurposed for other organizations and businesses in the area – notably, Sibley Mill, which is now home to Augusta Cyberworks. In 1845 during the initial construction of the Canal, Augusta was also the founding location of the Southern Baptist Convention, hosted by First Baptist Church of Augusta, which is still an active church today.
Augusta also has a military history. Fort Gordon was founded as Camp Gordon during World War II. Though initially considered only a temporary location to train soldiers, it was revitalized in 1948 when the Signal Training Center and Military Police School came to Camp Gordon. In 1956, the camp formally became Fort Gordon. Today the base is officially known as the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence & Fort Gordon.
Augusta also claims both a famous historical figure and a modern celebrity – as locals. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, lived in Augusta from young boyhood until age 14. While he and his family were in Augusta, his father was the minister of the First Presbyterian Church downtown. Much like First Baptist Church of Augusta, First Presbyterian is still an active congregation, though unlike First Baptist, First Presbyterian is still located in its original structure on Telfair Street, which is part of historic downtown Augusta, home to many area local businesses. The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson offers guided tours Thursday – Saturday, providing a glimpse into the former president’s early childhood.
Augusta is also considered home to James Brown, known in modern history as the Godfather of Soul, who spent part of his childhood and early adult years in Augusta. During his teen years, he often performed for soldiers at Camp Gordon. Despite a childhood with little money and family instability, he began his music career in 1953, and his career went on to span more than 50 years. You can visit a statue in homage to James Brown on Broad Street, given to him in his honor on his 72th birthday in 2005.
Though Atlanta is the largest city in modern Georgia, Augusta is relevant and active, and has a vital history spanning almost 300 years.