The great concern to preserve the heritage of Polk County brought together a representative group of citizens from Cedartown, Rockmart, Aragon, and the surrounding communities to organize and create a historical society. On June 3, 1974 a charter was obtained to establish the Polk County Historical Society, Inc.
The museum, formerly headquartered in the original Hawkes Children’s Library, has now moved to the old Southcrest Bank building on West Avenue. Members of the Polk County Historical Society are currently working on a genealogical research center that will be housed at the former location. Read more about the Hawkes building here.
BRIEF HISTORY OF POLK COUNTY
Before the arrival of white settlers in the Cherokee Nation, 9,000 Native Americans lived in the villages along the creeks. Clean Town was located on the Euharlee while Cedar Town and Char’le Town were situated on Cedar Creek. White trappers, gold prospectors, and a handful of settlers were making forays into Indian territory, all the time urging the government to acquire more land.
As the state of Georgia opened the ten counties formed from the Cherokee Nation by means of land grants and lotteries, settlers started to arrive from eastern Georgia the Carolinas, and Virginia. Many pioneers were attracted by rich farm lands and abundant water supplies, especially Paulding County, which was created on December 3, 1832. The county offered fertile land in the beautiful Cedar Valley and the valley of Euharlee Creek. Ironically, these hardy frontiersmen often found the Cherokee Indians ready to help their new neighbors in clearing lands and building cabins.
When the time came for the Cherokees to leave the territory as required by treaty, many refused. Consequently, in 1838 federal troops under Gen. Winifred Scott were ordered into the territory to forcibly remove the unfortunate Native Americans. After the Indians were rounded up, they were imprisoned in concentration camps. Paulding County had one of the fourteen stockades erected in northwest Georgia, called Fort Cedar Town.
After a few months in 1838, the Cherokees were forcibly removed west to the Oklahoma Territory on the infamous Trail of Tears. The growing numbers of farmers labored long and hard to clear the land, build homes, and put in crops. Some of the newcomers set out to build extensive plantations with dozens of slaves to labor in the fields; others came to get rich by speculating the land.
In the area of Clean Town along Euharlee Creek, the town of Van Wert was established in 1832 and incorporated as the county seat on December 27, 1838. Van Wert was the center of population in Paulding County, and it soon grew to a hundred people.
The early settlers wasted little time in establishing churches and schools. Wilson Whatley built the first fine home in Cedar Town below Tanyard Branch, and it was here that his wife started teaching a few children.
Mrs. Sarah Heard Whatley worked for the establishment of a full time school, the Cedar Town Academy. By 1837, this first school in Cedar Valley was opened in a residence what is now Brooks Street, with the Rev. John Wood as instructor. The same year the Cedar Town Academy building was constructed and about 50 pupils were given elementary instruction. In the Euharlee Valley, Van Wert established their school, Williams Academy, in 1838.
Another early school, the Mosley Academy, was established on Cave Spring Road, by Col. Benjamin T. Mosley, with the aid of George West and William Peek. The school opened in 1845 and became a noted school for boys which drew students from around the state.
The citizens of the western, more prosperous portion of Paulding County presumably had grown tired of paying taxes to support their poorer eastern cousins, and in response, the Georgia General Assembly created Polk County on December 20, 1851. The new county was carved from the counties of Paulding and Floyd.
For a few years Van Wert remained the seat of county government but now was located on the extreme eastern bounty of Polk County. Consequently, Cedar Town was chosen as the county seat and incorporated by an act of the General Assembly on February 8, 1854.
The Civil War would bring great privations to the people of Polk County. In 1861 the General Assembly met in Milledgeville to consider if Georgia should leave the Union. On January 19th, representatives from every county voted 208 to 89 to pass the Ordinance of Secession. Polk County sent two representatives, W. E. West and T. W. Dupree, who voted against secession. However, they joined with other Georgians to sign the ordinance.
The people of Polk County lost so much during the war that when peace finally came, recovery was slow and difficult. The small farmers were able to return to their earlier way of life, but the large plantation owners, who had depended on their slaves for labor, lost their aristocratic way of life.
The African-Americans, too, had little besides their new freedom and now faced starvation. They had no choice but to return to their former masters for help, not to labor as slaves, but to rent land for a share of their cotton and corn crops. Out of this situation, tenant farming for both blacks and whites came into being. From their hundreds of idle acres, the land owners parceled out as much land as the tenant could reasonably farm.
By the early 1870s, northern profit-minded businessmen, having seen the abundant resources of the South during the war, began developments to exploit these resources. In Polk County, they opened mines for iron ore and slate and built iron furnaces to produce pig iron. This stimulated land speculation and the building of railroads.
Chartered in 1866, Polk County’s first railroad, the Selma, Rome & Dalton, built their road from Cave Spring southwest to Alabama, crossing the extreme northwestern corner of the county. By 1871 a furnace at Etna situated on the new railroad was producing pig iron from the rich brown iron deposits in the area.
However, the railroad across the eastern portion of the county did not progress so quickly. The Cartersville and Van Wert Railroad was also incorporated in 1866 but by 1871 had laid only eighteen miles of track from Cartersville to Taylorsville. The proposed route through Polk County was to pass northwest of Van Wert across land owned by Seaborn Jones, a director of the railroad company.
Jones had the land along the right-of-way surveyed and a new town laid out: Rock Mart, named for the expected market in locally mined slate. By some accounts, Van Wert refused to grant a right-of-way to the railroad, and Seaborn Jones provided the land as well as the money for a depot in Rock Mart.
By the turn of the century, textile mills were up and running. In 1896 Charles Adamson organized the Cedartown Cotton Manufacturing Company to make grade hosiery yarn. Two years later a number of New York businessmen established the Aragon Mils about four miles north of Rockmart. The county was moving away from agriculture and into industrial employment, and into prosperity.
From the early settlers in 1832, one hundred years of blood, sweat, and tears changed a frontier wilderness into comfortable, prosperous communities.
Submitted by: Gordon D. Sargent