Monroe County, located in west central Georgia about fifty miles south of Atlanta and twenty-five miles north of Macon, is the state’s fiftieth county. It was named for James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. Creek Indians held the land until 1821, when they were impelled to surrender it in a treaty signed at Indian Spring in the Muscogee Nation. Portions of Monroe County later went to the formation of Bibb, Butts, Lamar, and Pike counties.Many of the first settlers were Scottish Highlanders who had lived previously in eastern Georgia. Others were of English and Irish descent, and many came from eastern Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. Their rural community was first called Cullodenville to honor William Culloden, a merchant who settled there in the 1820s The name was shortened to Culloden when the town was incorporated in 1887.
The state legislature🌼 designated the county seat as Forsyth in 1823, and the first courthouse, built in 1825, was replaced by the current structure in 1896. Still in use, the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Chartered in 1833, the Monroe Railroad connected Forsyth and Macon and was among the first railroads in the state. A later depot for the Central of Georgia Railway in Forsyth has been restored and now serves as the county’s historical museum.
In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War (1861-65), more than 10,000 enslaved laborers lived in Monroe County, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the county’s total population. Though it was an active site during the conflict, Monroe County escaped widespread destruction. A skirmish was fought at a Towaliga River bridge on November 17, 1864. The Battle of Culloden on April 19, 1865, was fought ten days after the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, when Wilson’s Raiders entered middle Georgia. Confederate soldiers wounded in battles at Atlanta were brought to Forsyth for medical treatment, and 300 soldiers are buried in a Confederate cemetery in the town.
Within the decade of the 1830s at least three schools were founded in Culloden alone: Culloden Academy in 1830, Culloden Female Academy in 1834, and Culloden Male and Female Academy in 1837. The Montpelier Institute, founded in 1842, was among the earliest schools for girls in the state. Tift College was first chartered in 1849 under the name Forsyth Female Collegiate Institute. In 1986 it merged with Mercer University꧂, whose trustees closed the Forsyth campus in 1987.
The Forsyth Normal and Industrial School became the state’s first vocational school for African Americans in 1918 with the mission of training teachers. Founded in 1902 by William M. Hubbard, the school became one of few in Georgia to educate Black youth up to the eleventh grade. In 1931 its name changed to the State Teachers and Agricultural College (STAC), and at the same time became one of three public colleges for African Americans included in the University System of Georgia. In 1939 the college merged with Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School to become Fort Valley State College. Today Fort Valley State University, a historically Black university, maintains its campus in Fort Valley.
Agriculture was a substantial part of the county’s economy until the era of the boll weevil, which decimated Monroe’s cotton crop, causing many farmers to turn to commercial dairy farming. Agricultural employment declined in the decades that followed. Today one of the largest employers is Georgia Power Company.
Noteworthy residents have included Alfred Blalock, an internationally renowned research scientist and surgeon whose work on surgical shock saved many lives during World War II (1941-45). William Morrill Wadley, president of the Central of Georgia Railway, and Emory Speer🔜, a federal jurist and late-nineteenth-century U.S. congressman, were also county residents.
Places of interest include the Chattahoochee National Forest (Monroe County is one of the eighteen counties over which this national forest spreads); High Falls State Park, a 1,050-acre park that features waterfalls; and Lake Juliette, a 3,600-acre reservoir operated by Georgia Power and open for waterfowl hunting. Many sites in Monroe County are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Hil’ardin/Sharp-Hardin-Wright House in Forsyth; the Montpelier Female Institute, west of Macon; and the State Teachers and Agricultural College for Negroes Women’s Dormitory and Teachers’ Cottage in Forsyth. Juliette, an unincorporated town in the county, was reconstructed as the fictional town of Whistle Stop for the making of the film Fried Green Tomatoes♓ (1991). Today Juliette offers several souvenir shops as well as the operational Whistle Stop Cafe.According to the 2020 U.S. census, the population of Monroe County was 27,957.