Jones County, Georgia, (population 26,836) was originally inhabited by the Creek Indians. It was partitioned from neighboring Baldwin County in 1807. Albany, later known as Clinton, became the county seat in 1808. It became one of the fastest growing centers of trade and culture in Georgia, a bustling town known for commerce and gracious living, and the site of a factory manufacturing cotton gins in the 1800s.
By 1905 a railroad depot known as Gray Station, located one mile from Clinton, became the new seat of county government. Neither Gray nor Clinton would ever keep up with the commercial opportunities offered in nearby Macon and Milledgeville, which resulted in Jones County becoming a bedroom community for both of these larger cities. Jones County had a food cannery which closed in 2000, and a mobile home manufacturing facility that stopped production in the early 1970s, leaving two rock quarries as the only industrial enterprises in the county.
Now a mixture of old and new exists in the county, which is dotted with small, quaint communities: Round Oak, Griswoldville, Haddock, Wayside, Bradley, East Juliette, James, and Clinton. Each of these communities is rich in history, offering glimpses of life in Georgia over the past 200 years. Many of them were “whistle stops” in the flourishing days of the railroads. Jones County History and Heritage, Inc. members created six driving tours of these small communities, and also offer guided tours of these communities and historic county cemeteries during special events and by prearrangement.
Community leaders and citizens alike realize that the county’s biggest assets are its natural and historic resources, and that in order for the community to prosper and compete with the nearby larger cities, these irreplaceable resources must be utilized. Efforts are being made to make Jones County and the city of Gray a destination rather than just another traffic stop along the route to north Georgia or the Carolinas. Jones County has three destination sites on the Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails system marking the passage of Sherman’s Right Wing through the county, and Clinton/Gray is one of seven locations on Georgia’s Antebellum Trail.
For 30 years, the annual War Days event has been held in the Old Clinton Historic District, drawing large numbers of visitors to experience reenacted 19th century life, including the Civil War battles of Sunshine Church and Griswoldville, both fought in Jones County. Demonstrations of period crafts, military skills, and camp life complement music and storytelling. Local small businesses benefit greatly from this heritage event.
Jones County High School, designed in 1936 by noted female architect Ellamae Ellis League and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stood empty until a group of local citizens obtained permission from the board of education to use part of the space for a Jones County Education Museum. A partnership among the Jones County History and Heritage organization (the primary sponsor), the County Commissioners, the County Board of Education, and local businesses led to the opening of the museum in 2010. Visitors see classrooms typical of three different time periods, exhibits on school nutrition, transportation, and notable staff and alumni, and a multi-media overview history of Georgia education. The museum has hosted a class reunion of all the graduating classes of black schools in Jones County, a 50 year reunion of school graduates, and a tour by all fifth graders in the county. The historic school building, renovated as the Jones County Civic Center, also houses the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce, the Development Authority of Jones County, the Keep Jones Beautiful Commission, the Jones County Boys and Girls Club, Central Georgia Technical College, the Jones County Auditorium, the Family Connection office, and other meeting areas for public and civic purposes.
The Jones County’s Historic Preservation Commission continues to work with the Old Clinton Historical Society and other organizations to protect and promote local heritage. One accomplishment was the establishment of the Old Clinton Historic District, now protected by an ordinance calling for review of material changes in appearance to its properties. Gray was designated a Georgia Better Hometown Community through the State Main Street Program in 2006, and, with the county, received Transportation Enhancement funding for streetscape enhancements in the area of the historic Jones County Courthouse.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2011.