Welcome to Athens! We like to think our city is a special place, one that’s big enough for all kinds of exciting things to be going on—music, arts and food, pleasing architecture, outdoor activities—yet small enough that neighbors get to know each other. Enjoy your stay, whether it’s a weekend, four years or the rest of your life. (Of course, if you already live here, you already know Athens is special.)
- Area: About 122 square miles—geographically the smallest county in Georgia.
- Latitude: 33°57' N (About the same as Kabul, Afghanistan)
- Longitude: 83°23' W (About the same as Columbus, OH)
- Average high temperature: 51.6°F (January), 89.6°F (July)
- Average low temperature: 32°F (January), 69.5°F (July)
- Average precipitation: 49.74 inches per year
- Population (including students): 116,714 (2010 Census)
- Demographics: 65% white, 27% black, 7% Hispanic, 3% Asian (2010 Census)
- University of Georgia enrollment: 34,475 (Fall 2012)
- Largest employers: UGA (10,000), Athens Regional Medical Center (3,000), Athens-Clarke County (1,500), St. Mary’s Hospital (1,400), Clarke County School District (1,300)
- One of the 25 best places to retire (Forbes, February 2013; “CNN Money,” October 2012)
- One of seven up-and-coming food cities in the U.S. (Zagat, March 2013)
- One of 10 up-and-coming food and music scenes (Gourmet, June 2012)
- No. 8 college town, No. 8 affordable vacation destination and No. 1 music scene outside Nashville, New York City and Los Angeles (Livability.com, 2012)
- No. 13 arts destination among mid-size cities (American Style, 2012)
- Bronze-designated Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists (May 2011)
- No. 1 coolest college town (bleacherreport.com, August 2011)
- One of the South’s best college towns (Southern Living, September 2011)
- One of the coolest small cities in America (GQ, November 2010)
- No. 1 football college town (Associated Press, Oct. 8, 2010)
- No. 7 small city for jobs (Forbes.com, April 2009)
- One of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2009 Dozen Distinctive Destinations
A Brief History of Athens
Athens started life as Cedar Shoals, a small trading post on the bank of the North Oconee River known as Carr’s Hill, where Daniel Easley built a mill in the late 19th Century. (In a sign of our city’s “progress,” a massive apartment building called The Flats at Carr’s Hill was recently constructed on the site of Easley’s mill.)
The Georgia General Assembly chartered the University of Georgia in 1785 but, due to the Creek Indian War, didn’t make a final choice for a site until 16 years later. The delay resulted in a feud that persists to this day with the University of North Carolina over which is the oldest public college in the country.
John Milledge, later a governor, bought 633 acres from Easley in what was then Jackson County and donated the land to the university. Milledge named the village-to-be for the Greek cradle of philosophy. Athens was incorporated in 1806.
In the decades that followed, the town became known as the “Manchester of the South” because of its cotton mills. James Camak built the city’s first railroad, connecting Athens to Augusta in 1841.
During the Civil War, the Cook & Brother Armory (now known as the Chicopee building, owned by UGA) supplied Enfield rifles to the Confederate forces. A Union cavalry detachment tried to take the armory in 1864 but was fought off near Barber’s Creek. The double-barreled cannon invented by local dentist John Gilleland was employed in the skirmish, though firing only one barrel, since it had proved of little use as a double-barreled weapon: at its test-firing, the chain connecting the balls snapped, knocking down a chimney and killing a cow. The cannon is now displayed outside City Hall, aimed roughly in the direction of Washington, D.C.
The Clarke County seat of government was moved from Watkinsville, about 15 miles south, to Athens in 1872, prompting Watkinsville residents to split off and form Oconee County. By the turn of the century, Athens had public schools, a police force and its first streetcar suburbs.
Aviation pioneer Ben Epps (the local airport’s namesake) built and flew his first plane in 1907, four years after the Wright Brothers.
African-American students Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter integrated UGA when they enrolled in 1961. The local public schools were integrated nine years later.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Athens became internationally known for its rich music scene, which over the ensuing decades has spawned and sustained such renowned artists as R.E.M., The B-52s, Widespread Panic, Vic Chesnutt, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, of Montreal and Drive-By Truckers. Yes, that leaves out some big ones—any list would.
In the early 1980s, Athens’ first mall out on Atlanta Highway nearly killed downtown, as the main stores fled to the ‘burbs. The music scene saved downtown. Slowly, the big stores were replaced by bars, restaurants, music venues and new retailers.
After three failed attempts, Athens and Clarke County voters chose to unify the two governments in 1990. That’s why it’s called “Athens-Clarke County.”
Don’t Worry About the Government
Athens residents are represented by 10 commissioners in 10 districts and a mayor, currently Nancy Denson, who is elected at-large. (District maps, contact information and just about anything you want to know about local government are available at www.athensclarkecounty.com, or you can visitmvp.sos.state.ga.us to find out who your elected officials are.) Local elections are nonpartisan and are conducted in conjunction with the Republican and Democratic primaries for state and federal office in late July.
A calendar of meetings and other events, including meeting agendas, is available atwww.athensclarkecounty.com, too. In addition, citizens can sign up for police alerts through Nixle, and the Planning Department runs the Neighborhood Notification Initiative, which sends emails to signed-up residents whenever a development is proposed in their area.
Commissioners set policy, but the government is run day-to-day by an appointed manager, currently Alan Reddish, who oversees more than 1,500 employees in 39 departments. Here are some frequently needed numbers:
- Emergencies: 911
- Police (non-emergencies): 706-613-3888
- Community Protection Division (code violations like junked cars and trash cans left out): 706-613-3888
- Animal Control: 706-613-3540
- Transportation and Public Works (report potholes, etc.): 706-613-3440
- Solid Waste (your trash wasn’t picked up): 706-613-3501
- Water and sewer: 706-613-3470
Although Athens is a liberal college town, state legislators have drawn districts in such a way that this community is mostly represented in state government by conservative Republicans. In fact, the GOP holds every statewide elected office and vast majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. Contact info for legislators, the text of bills and other information is available atwww.legis.ga.gov. For Gov. Nathan Deal and the executive branch, visit www.georgia.gov.
Georgia’s two U.S. senators are Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Most of Athens is represented in Congress by Rep. Paul Broun, of “Obama is a socialist” and “evolution is a lie straight from the pit of Hell” fame. A small northern portion of the county is represented by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville).
Intrigued by politics? Read Flagpole’s City Dope column and the In the Loop blog at www.flagpole.com for the latest scoops.
The UGA libraries also maintain an excellent source of information about Athens-Clarke County atwww.libs.uga.edu/athens.
The Clarke County School District, governed by a nine-member school board, operates 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools that educate more than 12,000 students. They often get a bad rap, but they’ve improved recently under Superintendent Philip Lanoue in spite of high poverty rates and a sizable percentage of students who are speakers of English as a second language. The 70.1 percent graduation rate in 2012, up four points from 2011, was slightly above the state average. For more information, see www.clarke.k12.ga.us.
The Athens area also has eight private schools: Athens Academy (PK-12), Athens Christian School (PK-12), Athens Montessori School (PK-8), Monsignor Donovan Catholic High School (9-12), Prince Avenue Christian School (PK-12), St. Joseph’s Catholic School (PK-8), Waseca School (PK-5) and Westminster Christian Academy (PK-12).
UGA is not the only local institute of higher learning. Piedmont College has a small campus in a former church complex on Prince Avenue, and the University of North Georgia has a branch in Watkinsville. But UGA, in addition to being a top public university, is the city’s largest employer, economic engine (generating $2 billion annually in the local economy) and one of its cultural centers as well. UGA is a big part of what makes Athens Athens.
- North Campus: Athens was built adjacent to what we now call North Campus across Broad Street from downtown. It’s the oldest and one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Don’t let the high iron fence put you off. Walk right through the iconic Arch and have a picnic or play frisbee. It’s public property and functions like a park for students and townies alike.
- Entertainment: UGA has departments of theatre, film, dance, music, visual arts and more. All of them constantly produce and showcase cultural events and artifacts, and they really want you to share in these offerings. UGA’s master calendar at www.calendar.uga.edu will tell you everything that’s happening on campus. And pay close attention to The Calendar atwww.flagpole.com/events and in the weekly Flagpole to stay in the know about campus happenings.
- Learning: The university is constantly hosting lectures, seminars, workshops and readings—many of them free and open to the public—by both local and visiting academics, artists, writers and experts in diverse fields. Again, keep an eye on The Calendar in the weekly Flagpole and atwww.flagpole.com. Many lectures are held in the historic Chapel on North Campus. Hear a bell ringing? That’s the Chapel bell, rung by students to celebrate football victories or, really, any reason at all.
- Sports: The Bulldog Nation will be out in force during the seven home game weekends this fall, often more than doubling the city’s population. Be sure to wear red and black to fit in. Avoid yellow (Georgia Tech) and orange (Auburn, Florida, Tennessee) at all costs. While the high-profile student sports—football, basketball (men’s and women’s), baseball and gymnastics—charge for tickets, all the others—from tennis to swimming to women’s softball and soccer—are free and showcase perennial conference contenders. Visit www.georgiadogs.com.
There Goes the Neighborhood
Of course, there’s much more to Athens than the UGA campus. Here’s a primer on the various parts of town, how to get there and what to expect when you arrive.
- Downtown: The beating heart of Athens. Whether you’re looking for shopping, eating, drinking, music, film or other entertainment, as the official slogan goes, it’s all here.
- Cobbham/Boulevard/Buena Vista: Straddling Prince Avenue, a commercial corridor running northwest from downtown, are Athens’ original suburbs, now lovingly preserved intown historic districts full of 19th- and early 20th-century homes from grand mansions to working-class mill houses. Boulevard is wide and stately (a streetcar once ran down the middle), while Cobb and Hill streets are cozier but no less impressive. Athens’ newest historic district is Buena Vista, a cluster of smaller homes at the far end of Boulevard, approved in 2013. Smaller in-town neighborhoods like New Town and the Pulaski Heights area cluster near Boulevard, and wooded suburbs like Forest Heights and Homewood Hills lie farther out, along Oglethorpe Avenue and Jefferson Road.
- Normaltown: At the intersection of Prince Avenue and Oglethorpe Avenue is a thriving little commercial strip of shops and restaurants. It was named for the State Normal School, which opened in the 1890s as a teachers’ training college and served from 1954-2011 as the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School. (How did the Navy end up with a landlocked base, you ask? Georgia’s Washington power duo back in the day, Congressman Carl Vinson and Senator Richard B. Russell , Jr., put it there.) It’s now the UGA Health Sciences Campus, the Navy School having finally made it to the sea in Rhode Island.
- Five Points: The main thoroughfare through campus, Lumpkin Street, runs south to meet Milledge Circle and Milledge Avenue, a street lined by impressive mansions converted into offices and fraternity and sorority houses. The five-way intersection of these streets gives the neighborhood its name and is a local business node at the center of an area of spacious homes.
- Hancock Corridor: Hancock Avenue and Reese Street were once the center of the “west-side” neighborhood of African-American citizens. The area is now a mixture of students and permanent residents, black and white, that’s still rich in history, though not as economically upscale as nearby Cobbham or Boulevard.
- Eastside: Athens is cut in half by the North Oconee River. The entire eastern half is sometimes referred to as the Eastside, though that’s often a reference to the suburban strip malls and subdivisions off Lexington, Gaines School and Barnett Shoals roads a few miles southeast of downtown.
- East Athens: Sometimes called “East of Athens” by old-timers, the neighborhoods off MLK Drive, North Avenue, First Street and East Broad Street directly across the river from downtown are also historically African-American. Some neighborhoods in the area, such as Chicopee-Dudley, are rapidly gentrifying.
- Westside: A few miles west of downtown are more commercial corridors, including Baxter Street, Alps Road, Atlanta Highway and Epps Bridge Parkway. If you’re looking for a car dealership, chain restaurant, big box retailer, the latest Hollywood blockbuster or the mall, then you just head west.
I Get Around
- City buses are based at the Multimodal Transportation Center on the eastern edge of downtown at 775 East Broad Street, behind the Classic Center. Buses run every hour or half-hour Monday through Saturday starting at 6 a.m. Some make their last stops at 6 p.m., others at 10 p.m. Adult fares are $1.60; discounts for multi-ride passes, seniors, children and the disabled are available. UGA students, staff and faculty (including retirees) ride free. See www.athenstransit.com for routes and schedules.
- UGA buses run more frequently in and around campus, and they’re free for everyone, including non-students. For instance, the Milledge Avenue buses make a continuous loop from downtown through campus to Five Points and are free to all. The Health Sciences buses run every 20 minutes from campus along Prince Avenue to Normaltown and back. Maps and more for all campus-transit routes at www.transit.uga.edu.
- For longer-distance travel, Southeastern Stages operates daily inter-city bus service to Atlanta, the Carolinas and beyond; its station is inside the Texaco convenience store at 4020 Atlanta Highway and operates daily from 8 a.m.–1 p.m. and 8 p.m.–9:30 p.m. 706-549-2255 or go to www.southeasternstages.com. Megabus offers thrice-daily rides to and from Atlanta for as low as $1 per fare. Buses depart and arrive at the Multi-Modal Transit Center every day but Sunday, when they rendezvous at the UGA East Campus Parking Deck. For more info or to book fares, go to us.megabus.com.
- Rail: The nearest Amtrak station is in Gainesville, with the next closest in Atlanta. There’s one northbound train at night and one southbound train early in the morning. Both are stops on the Crescent line between New York City and New Orleans. Call 800-USA-RAIL or go towww.amtrak.com.
- Air: SeaPort Airlines shuttles fly daily between Athens-Ben Epps Airport and Nashville starting at $49 each way. Visit www.athensairport.net or www.seaportair.com to book tickets, or call 1-888-573-2767.
- Shuttle: Groome Transportation runs a full schedule of shuttle vans from the Georgia Center on campus, the Holiday Inn downtown and Athens West Shopping Center on the Atlanta Highway to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta daily. Call 800-896-9928 or go towww.groometransportation.com.
- Car: If you must drive, downtown metered parking is 75 cents an hour, with two-hour time limits from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. (You have to feed the meters until 10 p.m., but the time limit ends at six.) Overstay your quarters and get a $10 ticket; overextend your time and get a $15 ticket; fail to pay your fines and get a boot on your wheel. Many of the meters (some of which are kiosks that serve multiple spaces) now take credit cards and even allow you to pay by smartphone, but some are still coin-operated. There are also several parking decks downtown that cost $1.50 per hour after the first (free) half hour, up to $8 a day, with no time limit. Details are available atwww.downtownathensga.com. Most surface lots downtown are operated at night by Prestige Parking, which charges $5 and will tow you if you “forget” to pay. • On campus, a good rule of thumb is that, if you drive onto campus, you can only park in a deck. Most surface lots are permit-only, and rules are strictly enforced with high ticket fees and towing. Be prepared: call 706-542-PARK or go to www.parking.uga.edu—or better yet, just walk, bike or bus free to campus.
- Taxi: If you’re out drinking, take a cab home if it’s too far to walk. There are a bunch of companies in the phone book, or you can usually hail a taxi downtown in front of the Arch on Broad Street late at night. Pro tip: The cabs are large vans shared with other riders, and they tend to fill up, so your route home may be less than direct. And, make absolutely sure that the van you get into is actually a legitimate cab. A permit and fares should be posted on the dashboard, and the vehicle should have a special license plate.
- Bike: You can bike just about anywhere and everywhere in Athens. For all your local cycling needs, look to BikeAthens, whose bike map, available around town and at www.bikeathens.com, is only one of the many excellent resources they have to offer.
- Hoof It: You can walk just about anywhere, too. It feels good, and it’s good for you and the environment.
Breakin’ the Law
- Smoking: It’s illegal inside any public building (even bars), in public parks and on most parts of the UGA campus.
- Drinking: At a bar and want to sneak a cig outside? Make sure you stay inside the iron railing that delineates a sidewalk cafe from the sidewalk, because open containers are illegal in the public right-of-way, except for the UGA campus on football game days. Last call is 2 a.m. except for Sundays. Bars can’t open on Sundays, but restaurants and stores can sell alcohol from 12:30 p.m.–midnight.
- Underage drinking: The local police are actually serious about this. If you’re under 21 years old and they catch you drinking or with a fake ID, it’s not just a ticket. They will throw you in the paddy wagon and take you to jail.
- Bikes: Bicyclists have to follow the same rules as cars. Aside from that, be polite and be careful (and wear a helmet—it’s not the law, but it can be vital to your health). Also, you can’t ride on the sidewalk unless you’re 12 years old or under, and not even then if you’re downtown.
- Littering: Don’t. Downtown has trash cans and has receptacles for cigarette butts. Use them. Even better, recycle.
- Cohabitation: It’s illegal for more than two unrelated people to live in houses in areas zoned single-family. If the area is multi-family, it’s fine. Check with the ACC Planning Department before signing a lease.
- Cameras: Cameras mounted downtown are monitored by the police and are recording your every move. Cameras at some main intersections are ready to catch you running a red light.
Athens is full of caring people who want to make a difference. Be one of them. HandsOn Northeast Georgia is a clearinghouse that connects those who wish to do volunteer work in the community with Athens’ many nonprofit organizations. Check out your options at www.handsonnortheastgeorgia.organd the Help Out section of Flagpole’s weekly Bulletin Board pages.
Where Do I Start?
Still need more info on where to go and what do in Athens? Our welcome centers are a great resource.
- Athens Welcome Center: 280 E. Dougherty St., 706-353-1820, www.VisitAthensGA.com. Run by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, it’s in a house museum, one of Athens’ oldest structures. Both self-guided and guided tours focusing on local music and historic landmarks are available.
- UGA Visitors Center: College Station Road at River Road, 706-542-0842, www.visituga.edu—in a repurposed old dairy barn.
- Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau: 300 N. Thomas St., 706-357-4430,www.VisitAthensGA.com—in the firehall the citizens saved when it was threatened with demolition to make way for the Classic Center in the early 1990s.
- Oconee County Welcome Center: 22 N. Main St. Bldg. B, Watkinsville; 706-769-5197,www.visitoconee.com—in an old brick storefront downtown.