This article was originally published Jan, 18, 2017, in Buford Weekly Illustrated.
The following article is a real blast from the past for two reasons. First, many of our readers may not have known that Buford made a bid to become the county seat for a new county. And the second reason is that 40 years ago, Gwinnett County had a young writer creating weekly articles for the Gwinnett Daily News in the “Gwinnett Life” section in his column entitled “Historically Speaking.” During his last years at Berkmar High School, and the beginning of college, Tracy Power wrote somewhere around 250 of these articles for the public’s enjoyment. I recently contacted Dr. Power to ask his permission to reprint this article from March 28, 1976; written when he was 17 years old.
The great thing about history is its timeless appeal. Here are the words from Dr. J. Tracy Power from 1976, when he was still in high school.
Students of Gwinnett history can tell you that the county was founded in 1818 by such pioneers as Elisha Winn, William Maltbie, Nathan L. Hutchins, Sr. and William Nesbitt, and that the county seat is Lawrenceville, named for Captain James Lawrence, but how many people know that a little over 70 years ago, Buford was the proposed county seat of a new Georgia county?
On July 19, 1904, the Georgia state legislature passed a bill providing for eight new counties to be created in the coming year. Immediately, various towns and cities clamored to be the seats of these new counties, each area giving its own reasons why it was the best choice for a new seat of government. By August, 12 Georgia cities were up for consideration. They were: Adrian, in Emanuel County; Alamo, in Montgomery County; Ashburn, in Worth County; Barnesville, in Pike County; Broxton, in Coffee County; Cairo, in Thomas County; Cordele, in Dooly County; Hazlehurst, in Appling County; Millen, in Screven County; Tifton, in Berrien County, Toccoa in Habersham County and Winder in Jackson County. Many other cities were eager to become county seats, but had not announced their intentions at the time the list was printed in the News-Herald.
In the Dec. 29, 1904, News-Herald and both the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution at the same time, the City of Buford, in northern Gwinnett County told of its bid to become the seat of a county created from Gwinnett and Hall Counties. Members of a city committee on the subject included Mayor W.W. Wilson, Bona Allen, C.L. Hutchins, W.B. Shadburn and T.C. Burton.
The county was to be named for Benjamin H. Hill, Georgia legislator, Confederate Senator, United States Senator and member of the United States House of Representatives. It was to consist of the Buford, Sugar Hill, Suwanee and Pucketts communities, and parts of Hog Mountain, Cains and Goodwins districts.
The citizens of Buford felt that their area had excellent qualifications for a new county seat. Buford was the home of the well known Bona Allen tannery and factory, maker of leather products. The area was, in a way, independent of the rest of the county in 1904 and 1905.
Another county, proposed by Winder, was also to be made up of parts of Gwinnett County. Named for Alexander H. Stephens, and created from Gwinnett, Jackson and Walton Counties, it was to consist of the Ben Smith’s district and parts of the Cains and Rocky Creek districts from this county.
Groups from Gwinnett and Hall were united in their opposition to Buford’s Ben Hill County, and representatives from Gwinnett, Jackson and Walton were opposed to Winder’s Stephens County. On Aug. 9, 1905, a statewide vote determined the eight new counties and their seats. The proposed Ben Hill County was defeated. The proposed Stephens County was defeated, but another Stephens County, made from Habersham and Franklin Counties and having Toccoa as its seat, was created on Aug. 19, 1905.
The other seven counties and their approved county seats were: Crisp County, Cordele; Grady County, Cairo; Jeff Davis County, Hazlehurst; Jenkins County, Millen; Tift County, Tifton; Toombs County, Lyons and Turner County, Ashburn.
On July 31, 1906, a Ben Hill County was created, but from Irwin and Wilcox Counties, with Fitzgerald as its seat. Winder finally became a county seat on July 7, 1914, when Barrow County was created from Gwinnett, Jackson and Walton Counties.
As it turned out, many people in Buford were quite upset at being defeated in their bid for a county seat position. Twenty-one of Buford’s subscribers to the News-Herald boycotted that paper because they thought that it had slighted their city by a comment that the vote had decided the matter: “Gwinnett will remain the Empire County for another century.” Gwinnett remained the Empire County until 1914, when Barrow was created, ending a reign of nine years out of the predicted 100.
Lynn Bowman is curator of the Museum of Buford on Main Street. He is a 1984 graduate of Buford High School.
FEATURED PHOTO: Dr. J. Tracy Power. Special photo