See Rock City

See Rock City

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Commerce, Georgia

Downtown Commerce/Photo property of Shirley Alexander

Before white settlers arrived, the area around present-day Commerce was inhabited by the Creek and Cherokee. Two Cherokee settlements in the area were Yamacutah (Cherokee word meaning "to tumble," referring to a feature of the local shoals), situated near a now-lost sacred Stonehenge-like mound site; and Yamtrahoochee (meaning "Hurricane Shoals"). For the most part, this territory was a dividing line between the Creeks, who resided mostly to the South, and the Cherokees, to the North.

Photograph of a group of men riding in a wagon pulled by a team of oxen as other men stand nearby, Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, 1904

Commerce Depot/Photo by R. Dundore

The Lacoda Trail, which extended from present-day Athens-Clarke County to the north Georgia mountains, was a significant Cherokee trade and travel route through this area. (GA Hwy. 334, which follows a nine mile section of this ancient trail, was designated the "Lacoda Trail Memorial Parkway" by the Georgia General Assembly in 1998.)

Harmony Grove, Jackson Co., Ga., Dec. 1895 / Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited

Around 1770, a complicated war between the Creeks and the Cherokee broke out in the area: in one sense, the war was to decide who had the rights to claim the territory between the Lacoda Trail and the Tishmaugu (now Mulberry) River, an issue exacerbated by English expansion from the East; in another sense, the battle was an extension of the conflicts between European settlement policy, the Creeks being loyal to the English and the Cherokees to the Spanish. According to local history, the battle began at Numerogo, north of present day Hurricane Shoals. The leader of the Creeks was Talitchlechee (other spellings: Talitcheliche, Taleache), who had fought against the Spanish alongside General Oglethorpe at St. Augustine. The battle was decided when Talitchlechee slew Amercides, the Cherokee king of noble Spanish birth. It is said that Amercides' wife, Elancydyne, rallied the retreating Cherokees by mounting her dead husband's white horse, and was herself killed in battle. The daughter of Amercides and Elancydyne was raised by the king's trusted brave, Umausauga, and later married a white settler named Johnson Josiah Strong; their marriage is said to be the first in the county.

Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, March 1908 / Sanborn Map Company

Early White Settlement

The first permanent white settlement in Jackson County began near present-day Commerce on January 20, 1784, when the German immigrant, William Dunson, was awarded a land grant on Little Sandy Creek. The settlement was named Groaning Rock, supposedly because of a nearby hollow rock formation that produced a moaning sound when the wind passed over it. (Descendants of William Dunson were still living on the original tract of land in the early twentieth century.)

A trading post was established by Eli Shankle near Groaning Rock in 1808, named Harmony Grove. The common explanation is that the name is a play on his wife, Rebecca's, maiden name: Hargrove. There is also an old Appalachian hymn tune called "Harmony Grove," found in an 1830 book called "Virginia Harmony." This tune is popular today as the melody to "Amazing Grace."

Photograph of a group of men riding in a wagon, Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, 1905

The Harmony Grove Female Academy, the first all-female school chartered in the state of Georgia, was chartered by the state legislature on December 20, 1824.

Harmony Grove (Jackson County), 1890. Mrs. W. C. Eckles (left) and Bashie Williams (right) pose for a photograph. The two were sisters. Note their dresses and the hats they are holding.

The Harmony Grove post office was established on October 14, 1825; Russell Jones was its first postmaster.

Commerce, 1910. Members of the Old Fellows participate in a parade.

On September 1, 1876, the Northeastern Railroad of Georgia opened its line from Athens to Lula, which passed through the heart of Harmony Grove. The railroad line had the most significant impact on the shape of the city, and it began expanding both directions along the line. These tracks are now owned by Norfolk Southern Railway.

Portrait of Lamartine Hardman. Shown here as a young man, he sits in a chair and wears a suit. He faces right. Hardman, a native of Commerce, Georgia, served as the governor of Georgia from 1927 to 1931.

City History

The Harmony Grove community was officially incorporated as a town on December 24, 1884, including all areas within one mile radius of the railroad depot, one half mile east, and 400 yards west.

Photograph of a group of men sitting in front of Osborne Farm Implements resting and swapping tales, Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, between 1903 and 1905

Harmony Grove Mills, Inc., was organized under the laws of Jackson County in April 3, 1893, for the purpose of processing and producing cotton textiles. It served various purposes over the years, including the manufacture of denim overalls and the earliest production of electricity in the city. The mill village created to house employees makes up a significant portion of the homes on the southeast end of Commerce today. The mill had been in operation under various corporations until the spring of 2004, when it closed mill operations and was sold; it has been used for warehouse storage space since, and is currently for sale. The building is still a major feature of the city.

Photograph of bales of cotton being hauled though a street, Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, between 1903 and 1905

Near the end of the 19th century, many began to feel that the name Harmony Grove was too long to write and sounded too much like country village. In addition, many didn't like the fact that mail frequently went to another post office by the same name in Dawson County, Georgia. Harmony Grove was reincorporated and renamed "Commerce" on August 6, 1904, in an effort to address these concerns and reflect the city's commercial dominance in the north Georgia cotton trade.

Harmony Grove (Jackson County), ca. 1890. Etheleen Wood poses for a studio photograph. Note the elaborate backdrop used.

In 1959, a series of controversial town hall meetings were held to try and convince members of the federal Interstate Highway System to re-route the proposed Interstate 85, originally planned to go through Gainesville, Georgia (Hall County), through Commerce and Lavonia, Georgia. The proposal was changed, and the interstate was routed through Jackson County. Even more so than the railroad nearly a century before, this major transportation artery brought to Commerce tremendous commercial advantage, and at a time it desperately needed it.

Commerce, Aug. 8, 1954. Participants at the Telford Family Reunion. Note the pavilion in the background.

Photograph of weighing bales of cotton, Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, between 1903-1905

Picture of Original Painting on side of P.Y. Waters Store

Methodist Church/ copy of picture S. Alexander

Aerial View of Commerce, GA/ copy of picture S. Alexander

Parham Motel/Photo copy/S. Alexander

Southland Motel & Threat's Restaurant/ Photo copy/S. Alexander

Old Commerce High School and Later became The Grammer School/Photo copy/S. Alexander

Claire Anderson's home/photo by Rocky Long

First Baptist Church Postcard

First Baptist Church Postcard (Backside)


* Wilson, G.J.N. The Early History of Jackson County, Georgia. Atlanta, GA: Foote and Davies, 1914.

General history of the county, includes some details about the early history of the city; much in need of updated content and language/methodology.

* Hardman, T.C. History of Harmony Grove-Commerce, Jackson County, Georgia, 1810-1849. Athens, GA: McGregor Co., 1949.

The definitive version of the city's history, also in need of update.

* Burns, Olive Ann. Cold Sassy Tree. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1984.

* _____. Leaving Cold Sassy. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1992.

These novels are set in the fictional city of Cold Sassy, based on early 20th century Harmony Grove/Commerce, Georgia. The first book became a made-for-TV movie in 1989, starring Faye Dunaway and Neil Patrick Harris, and an opera in 2000, composed by Carlisle Floyd. The sequel was unfinished due to the author's untimely death from cancer.

* Buffington, Mike, ed. Our Time and Place. Jefferson, GA: MainStreet Newspapers, 2000.

Much more up to date general history of the county, includes some details about Commerce in the last half-century

Famous Citizens

Terry Allen - NFL running back, 1991-2001

Spud Chandler - MLB pitcher, 1937-1947

Lamartine G. Hardman - Georgia governor, 1927-1931

Bill Anderson - Country Singer/Songwriter. Famous for "City Lights" written in Commerce.

Mary Hood - fiction writer


Digital Library of Georgia

Commerce, GA ( A City On The Right Track)

City Of Commerce

Poems By Shirley Alexander
Tanger Outlet Centers

Atlanta Dragway

Commerce City Schools

Mainstreet News

Commerce News

Jackson Herald