McDonough History

McDonough was originally inhabited by the Creek Indian Nation which ceded the land to the state in the early 1800’s. As the ‘Mother of Counties’, Henry County once included all or parts of Newton, Dekalb, Fulton, Butts, Spalding, Clayton, Rockdale and Fayette counties.

McDonough was named for naval officer Commodore Thomas MacDonough and founded in 1823 around a traditional town square design. The county courthouse and historic jail building are on the north side near the Welcome Center in a historically maintained Standard Oil service station 1920 prototype.

The town was a relay station on the New York to New Orleans stagecoach line and was connected by other stage lines with Fayetteville and Decatur, and with Macon by way of Jackson.

After the Civil War and arrival of the railroad, McDonough began a new era of growth and prosperity and became an important cotton market.

In 1900, a washout during a thunderstorm caused a train wreck about 1½ miles (2.4 km) north of town. The runoff undermined about 100 feet of the Southern Railway (Macon division) prior the accident, and the passenger train subsequently caught fire, killing 35.

As the county seat for Henry County, the centerpiece of downtown McDonough is the Romanesque-style courthouse, built in 1897 by J. W. Golucke & Stewart Architects. Golucke was Georgia’s most prolific architect of county courthouses, building 27 in Georgia. Most notable are the Dekalb County, Putnam County and Coweta County courthouses. Golucke also designed a number of other government buildings and jails including the nearby Locust Grove Institute.

McDonough Historical Timeline by Mayor Billy Copeland

1820’s

Until 1821 the McDonough area was part of the Creek Indian Nation. On March 2, 1821, the First Treaty of Indian Springs was created; subsequently, on December 21, 1821, Henry County was founded. On December 17, 1823, McDonough was established as the County Seat. McDonough was named for Commodore Thomas Macdonough, a hero in the Battle of Lake Champlain, War of 1812. The town laid out around a Public Square with a courthouse in the center.

1830’s

McDonough was a leading commercial center for wagon trains. Several stagecoach lines intersected in the town, including the New York to New Orleans Stagecoach. Travelers were accommodated with four hotels.

1840’s

The Georgia Railroad bypassed McDonough to the north. The Monroe Railroad bypassed McDonough to the west. These contemporary transportation systems lead to the rise of new commercial centers in the region.

1850’s

This was a slow decade for McDonough. Several homes were dismantled and moved to Griffin and Bear Creek Station, now Hampton, to be near the railroad.

1860’s

In January of 1861, both McDonough delegates sent to the Secession Convention, in Milledgeville, voted against secession. Several companies of soldiers volunteered in McDonough. In July of 1864, Kilpatrick’s Raiders cut a swath of destruction, which was followed on November 16, 1864, by over 30,000 men in the Right Wing of Sherman’s Army on their March to the Sea.

1870’s

This decade was one of reconstruction and rebuilding.

1880’s

McDonough finally got its own railroad in 1882 with the construction of the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad, which is now Norfolk Southern Railroad. In 1886 the Georgia Midland and Gulf Railroad was built to connect the cotton market of McDonough with the cotton mills of Columbus.

1890’s

McDonough continued to grow and prosper during this decade. The “new” Courthouse was erected in 1896. Schools, churches, and the entire business district were replaced with brick structures. A significant number of homes were also built in this prosperous time.

1900’s

New construction and prosperity continued through this decade. January 1, 1900, marked the establishment of the McDonough Library. June 23, 1900, was one of the most tragic days in our history; this was the date of the Camp Creek train wreck at McDonough. Of the 38 people on the train, only seven survived.

1910’s

In 1910 the Monument in the center of the Square was erected. Also during this time, many new businesses were incorporated. Electricity, public water, and telephone service came to McDonough. The economy was dependent on cotton farming; by 1919, Henry County was harvesting 63,000 acres of cotton annually. World War I led to higher cotton demand and higher prices. The headline of the local paper, in October of 1919, boasted cotton prices of 41 cents per pound; a high price, considering today’s prices are in the 55 cent range.

1920’s

On May 20, 1921, Henry County celebrated its Centennial Anniversary. The 1920’s also are remembered in McDonough as the years of the Boll Weevil Depression. The cotton boll weevil arrived here in 1920, destroying the cotton based economy, and by 1940 twenty-five percent of the population of Henry County abandoned their homes, farms, and businesses and moved away. One local farmer used to say that in “McDonough in the 1920’s, a dime seemed as big as a wagon wheel.”

1930’s

The Boll Weevil Depression continued and was compounded by the Great Depression of the 1930’s. These were hard times in McDonough. However, despite the struggle, a City-wide vote was taken relative to paving the roads around the Park Square. In a show of progress during difficult times, a $35,000 bond issue was committed to the project by a vote of 307 to seven. As well, through this decade and the previous, the Atlanta Highway was paved through town. To celebrate both endeavors, the people of McDonough held a Progress Day celebration on November 20, 1931.

1940’s

World War II brought much loss of life among our servicemen; but, it also brought the economy back to life. The full attention of the community was focused of the war effort. On Friday, April 13, 1945, all schools and businesses closed and the town lined the railroad tracks to pay their respects to President Franklin Roosevelt as his remains passed through McDonough on their way from Warm Springs to Washington, DC. My seventh grade class, lead by our teacher Miss Lucy McDonald, walked to the Depot and stood in reverent memorial as the train passed.

1950’s

These were the “Mayberry” days in McDonough. The economy stabilized with the return of our heroes from the World War. New homes, businesses, and schools sprouted around town.

1960’s

Interstate 75 was constructed in this decade and opened to traffic in 1968. In fashion with the previous transportation booms of stagecoaches and then railroads, McDonough began its third period of expansion.

1970’s

I-75 opened up the convenient possibility of living in McDonough and working in Atlanta. This arrangement, which some called bedroom communities and some called sprawl, brought an unprecedented wave of growth and prosperity to McDonough.

1980’s

In this decade, greater government representation for the citizens of McDonough was initiated with the creation of four voting districts, which was included in the new City Charter. A new City Hall was built and officially opened in 1979. Shortly after, the facility was “computerized.” Also in that year, a full time fire department was created. The downtown Square was revitalized in 1981. Four events were initiated early in this decade and are still held annually: the Easter Egg Hunt, the Music in the Park series, and Easter Sunrise Service on the Square, and the annual Christmas Parade.

1990’s

In 1991 McDonough officially became known as “The Geranium City.” The citizens rallied during the Desert Storm Operation; a 40 inch by In 1991 McDonough officially became known as “The Geranium City.” The citizens rallied during the Desert Storm Operation; a 40 inch by 6 foot banner was delivered to the command post of General Norman Schwarzkopf that contained hundreds of hand written messages to members of the Armed Services. In 1993 McDonough and the Mayor were recognized for a Job Training Summer Youth Program with a Presidential Award for Outstanding Civic Leadership Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Many projects were initiated in this decade for the benefit of the expanding community, which was growing in population through a significantly increased rate of annexations. A twenty- seven acre landfill was converted to a recreational complex known as South Cedar Park. To address the increasing traffic burden, plans for one-way pairs and an outer perimeter were drawn-up. During this decade, the City also became a member of the Atlanta Regional Commission. In 1996 55,000 people gathered in the Square to witness the Olympic Torch Relay. McDonough was the third to last City through which the torch passed and was the only City in which the Olympic Committee allowed seven special citizens to touch the famous token of the Games. Also in 1996 McDonough hosted the Nation’s Bank Paralympics Torch Relay and erected a commemorative lamp in the Square Park. In 1997 the population of McDonough was 4,200.

In 1991 McDonough officially became known as “The Geranium City.” The citizens rallied during the Desert Storm Operation; a 40 inch by 6 foot banner was delivered to the command post of General Norman Schwarzkopf that contained hundreds of hand written messages to members of the Armed Services. In 1993 McDonough and the Mayor were recognized for a Job Training Summer Youth Program with a Presidential Award for Outstanding Civic Leadership Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Many projects were initiated in this decade for the benefit of the expanding community, which was growing in population through a significantly increased rate of annexations. A twenty- seven acre landfill was converted to a recreational complex known as South Cedar Park. To address the increasing traffic burden, plans for one-way pairs and an outer perimeter were drawn-up. During this decade, the City also became a member of the Atlanta Regional Commission. In 1996 55,000 people gathered in the Square to witness the Olympic Torch Relay. McDonough was the third to last City through which the torch passed and was the only City in which the Olympic Committee allowed seven special citizens to touch the famous token of the Games. Also in 1996 McDonough hosted the Nation’s Bank Paralympics Torch Relay and erected a commemorative lamp in the Square Park. In 1997 the population of McDonough was 4,200.

2000’s and beyond!

Today, our historic town has over 23,000 citizens. Our primary industries include Briggs and Stratton, Encompass, Norfolk Southern Training Center, South Pointe retail center, as well as a number of major manufacturers and distribution centers in our industrial area. We, too, are home to the Board of Education offices, as well as the judicial system and a Henry County government complex.

Our annual major events throughout the year include a multi-ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service, The Geranium Festival, a Fourth of July Ice Cream Social and Patriotic Program, a Job Fair of major industries in the County and Atlanta area, the Christmas Tree Lighting and Parade, and the New Year’s Eve Geranium Drop.

The City of McDonough is wonderfully diverse and staunchly patriotic. We come together in our churches and on our ballfields. We work hard and promote progress. We play hard and respect tradition. The City of McDonough— The Geranium City— is twenty-eight miles from Atlanta, thirty minutes from the world’s busiest airport, three-and-a-half hours from the Savannah port and Atlantic Ocean, and two hours to the beautiful North Georgia mountains. In other words, we believe our town to be the “New Promised Land.”