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Bainbridge Georgia History and Overview

History of Bainbridge and Decatur County

Non-native settlement of what is now the city of Bainbridge dates to the 1770s, when Englishman James Burges established a trading post known widely as "Burges Town" on the Banks of the Flint River. Burges served briefly as an interpreter for the United States Creek Agency after its establishment in the 1790s. Bainbridge can trace its roots more directly to the small American settlement that developed here after the First Seminole War, however.

Commodore William Bainbridge

The community, named after Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), was established in the early 1820s and officially incorporated in 1829.

Long before the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first set foot on Decatur County soil in 1540, the early Seminole Indians thrived on the bluffs along the Flint River. They believed very strongly that their souls were intertwined with the "soul" of the land-that where they were was a part of who they were.

Southwest Georgia is home to many picturesque regions and captivating communities, but none so enchanting as Bainbridge and Decatur County. Generations of Southerners have witnessed the evolution of this magnificent landscape-rich with Indian lore, scarred by battle, and blessed with beautifully preserved monuments that honor these life changes.

With its deep agricultural roots and extensive waterways, Decatur County was formed by the Georgia Legislature in 1823 and named for Commodore Stephen Decatur, a naval hero during the War of 1812. Even before that, in 1765, the present site of Bainbridge was an Indian village known as Pucknawhitla. As early as 1778, it became known as Burgess Town, when a trader named James Burgess established a trading post here. Later a federal outpost, it was called Fort Hughes from 1817-1824.

After the Seminoles were defeated in battle in late 1824, Fort Hughes was named Bainbridge for Commodore William Bainbridge (at right), Commander of "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812. Land for a county seat was purchased in 1826, and the city itself was incorporated in 1829.

The waterways surrounding Decatur County were instrumental in the early growth and development of the region. An early inhabitant of Decatur County stated, "The Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, together with their product, the Apalachicola River to the Gulf of Mexico, made the equivalent of a pretty big ready-made highway system." Archaeologists digging along the lake and its tributaries have uncovered several prehistoric fossils, dating back 15,000 years, as well as artifacts from the Civil War and turn-of-the-century riverboat excursions.

Climax and Brinson were two cities that served as junctions for agriculture and economy during the early years. Climax, located nine miles east of Bainbridge on U. S. Highway 84, was named for being the highest point of elevation on the railroad path between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River. Brinson, located ten miles west of Bainbridge on U. S. Highway 84, has been in existence since 1889.

Waterway usage and rail development were not the only contributors to Decatur County's formation. Fuller's Earth, a clay used in the early days for bleaching petroleum and cleansing grease from wool, was mined during the county's formative years. The mining of Fuller's Earth began in 1907 in Attapulgus, twelve miles south of Bainbridge on Highway 27. Decatur County still leads the nation in Fuller's Earth production.

More Decatur County History

Decatur County Snapshot from Georgia DCA

  • Decatur County was created in 1823 from portions of Early County. The county was named in honor of Commodore Stephen Decatur who defeated the Barbary Coast pirates at Tripoli in 1815. Bainbridge, the county seat, was named for Commodore William Bainbridge, commander of the U.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides."
  • The Decatur County area was the site of several battles between Indians and early settlers. In the early 1700s, both the Spanish and English fought with Creek Indians. In 1818, General Andrew Jackson led troops from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia to victory over the Seminole Indians.
  • Decatur County is divided by the Flint River, which flows to meet the Chattahoochee. Together they form the Apalachicola River which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. At the junction of the two rivers, the Jim Woodruff Dam forms Lake Seminole. A system of locks at the dam allows barge traffic to travel between the inland port at Bainbridge and the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The limestone aquifer underlying Decatur County is broken in many places, encouraging the formation of caves and lime sinks-one at Curry's Mill is almost 700 feet wide and reaches a depth of 102 feet.
  • Decatur County is the nation's leader in the production of Fuller's Earth, a type of clay with varied chemical uses. Once used for bleaching petroleum and cleaning grease out of wool, Fuller's Earth is currently used as cat litter and as an additive to insecticides and cements.
  • Lake Seminole is widely regarded as one of the nation's best lakes for large mouth bass fishing. In addition, local anglers fish for striped and white bass, catfish, crappy, and bream. Also, Lake Seminole is popular among area duck hunters.
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