Statesboro Ga


Statesboro Ga History

In 1758 an act was passed by the legislature in which the province of Georgia was divided into 8 parishes. In 1776, one of these original parishes (St. Philips) was renamed Bulloch County after Archibald Bulloch, the provincial governor. By 1803 the town was created, but it was not incorporated until 1866.
George Sibbald, a man of wealth from Augusta who owned large land holdings in Bulloch County, gave the community the land on which the town now stands.

    However, it's unclear how the town came to be called "Statesborough." One theory says the name came about because of Thomas Jefferson who made a great argument in Virginia standing up for states' rights and the rights of people for local self-governance. Elected to the presidency in 1801, Jefferson entered office when state rights were a popular topic. It is assumed that the name "Statesborough," which later simply became "Statesboro," originated in honor of states' rights.

Statesboro Ga Legends

Statesboro Legends

Emma Kelly
Emma Kelly won millions of hearts here and throughout the world. Her music was magic and her “ear” was magnificent. She was a favorite at clubs and cabarets across the Southeast for many years. She played at parties and weddings in Bulloch and surrounding counties and even had the honor of entertaining presidents.

When John Berendt made Miss Emma a household name worldwide by writing about her in his best selling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bulloch County residents once again celebrated the validation of her talent and success. Mr. Berendt told the story both simply and true. Miss Emma seemed to be everywhere all the time. It would not have been unusual for her to fly from the West Coast to make it here in time to play in Metter by the next afternoon. If asked why she would go to so much trouble, she would answer: “Why, because they asked me.”

Miss Emma was always proud to be a native of Statesboro and would quickly correct anyone who referred to her as a native or resident of Savannah. Miss Emma raised 10 children, all of whom became college graduates, and all were on hand for her induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. All still remained close to her until her death on January 17, 2001. What a treasure we had in our Miss Emma.

Miss Emma was more than the Lady of 6,000 Songs, as the late Johnny Mercer dubbed her, she was “our Miss Emma”. We are forever proud of the legacy she left behind for her beloved Statesboro and all of Georgia. Her music echoes still in our hearts and minds.

"Blind Willie" McTell
"Blind Willie" McTell helped to make Statesboro famous by writing the song that the Allman Brothers Band made popular, "Statesboro Blues". McTell was a man with a lot of pride. Although he was blind from birth, he refused to wear dark glasses and never allowed his blindness to prevent him from doing what he wanted to do.

He was set apart from other blues musicians by his mastery of the 12-string guitar. During the turn of the 20th century, McTell's parents came to Statesboro to find work. He used to play on the steps of the Jaeckel Hotel for guests and visitors to the area. McTell continued to develop his musical talents through much education and musical training in New York City, Michigan, North Carolina, and Macon.

After suffering a stroke in August of 1959, he died in a hospital in Milledgeville. In 1990, he was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. McTell was one of Statesboro's most famous sons. His music brought recognition and acclaim to his adopted home.

Coach Erskine "Erk" Russell
In the fall of 1981, Georgia Southern College (now University) and Coach Russell founded what would become the "winningest" football team in 1-AA championship history. Recruited from Athens and the University of Georgia, where he had served as defensive coach, Erskine Russell came to Georgia Southern to shape up a large turnout of "farm boys." They wanted to play the game that requires much strength, coordination, and athleticism.

He did much more than "shape up some farm boys." He created a dynasty. Just one year before GSC became GSU, and following nearly ten years of service, Coach Russell retired in 1990 with four national championships, leaving a strong legacy to Statesboro and Georgia Southern University. Until his death in September of 2006, Erk stayed a strong supporter of the town and the university, and was in high demand as a motivational speaker.

Historical Buildings of Interest
Day-to-day traffic on East Main Street back in 1905 showcased high society and the Historic Jaeckel Hotel's unique and upscale accommodations. The Jaeckel Hotel closed its doors in the late 1960s and today it is home to Statesboro's City Hall.

The Old Bank of Statesboro sits adjacent to the courthouse on the corner of Siebald and East Main Street. The bank opened in 1894. This was the last bank to close during the Great Depression. Although the Bank of Statesboro never reopened, the building was utilized in many different capacities until the City of Statesboro bought it in 1997 to house the David H. Averitt Center for the Arts. The Center for the Arts features the 362-seat Emma Kelly Theater, six small studios, conference room, a large classroom/studio and much more.

Named for a Statesboro musical legend, the building known as the Emma Kelly Theater was once known as the Georgia Theater. The Georgia Theater was built as a "motion picture theater" and opened for business in 1936. Featuring modern conveniences such as steam heat and a coffee shop in the lobby, the Georgia Theater was also one of the first air-conditioned public buildings in Statesboro.Entertaining audiences for nearly 50 years, the theater closed in the 1980s. Re-opening as a newly renovated theater, the Emma Kelly Theater, boasts funky art deco décor and 362 luxurious seats. This beautiful assembly structure has been completely renovated to its original luster.

Located at the corner of East and South Main Street stands Sea Island Bank. Named for our famous Sea Island cotton crop, Sea Island Bank was the second bank to open in Statesboro. A charter was petitioned in 1901, and the bank soon had some of the most well-known customers in the area.

Don't miss the Savannah Avenue Historic District, which was the first suburb of Statesboro, developed in the 1900s. Many of the original homes and gardens still stand and are privately preserved to capture the days of the past. Also, a booming university today, Georgia Southern University is celebrating its Centennial Year! Stroll through Sweetheart Circle to see some of the original college buildings still in operation.


Statesboro Ga History


Bulloch County quickly began to attract settlers and develop

Courtesy of Edwin Jackson, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia
Bulloch County Courthouse
a promising agricultural economy after it was established in 1796. In its early years it was a county without a city or town. Many small farmers and a few planters settled the rich acreage near the Ogeechee River valley on the Old River Road. Much of the interior of the county consisted of pine forests and rolling sandhills. In an act of unexplained generosity in 1801, George Sibbald of Augusta donated 200 acres for a centrally located county seat. More than two years later, in December 1803, the Georgia legislature created the town of Statesborough, some fifty miles northwest of Savannah.

Nineteenth Century

For the next eighty years the town remained small and seemed irrelevant to this rural Cotton Belt county, which was bustling with immigrants whose roots traced to the British Isles. In 1866 the state legislature granted a permanent charter and changed the spelling of the name to its present form, Statesboro, but growth did not follow. The census for 1880 reveals 25 residents in the town and 8,053 in the growing county. During the next two decades, however, the county seat experienced a period of dramatic expansion. Other communities prospered in the post-Reconstruction economy, but Statesboro emerged as a major town in southeastern Georgia.

In the autumn of 1864, during the Civil War (1861-65), a Union commanding officer on General William T. Sherman's march to the sea approached a saloon in the middle of a forest in Bulloch County. He asked for directions to Statesboro. The proprietor replied, "You are standing in the middle of town." The soldiers destroyed only the courthouse—a crude log structure that served as a barn when court was not in session.

Leadership for the town came from outside of Bulloch County. The original visionary was a young lawyer from Bryan County named J. A. Brannen, who moved to Statesboro in 1879. Within a few years a newspaper was started; then local businessmen funded a vital link to the Central of Georgia Railway. Municipal services began to multiply. New stores sprang up along the town's four major streets, each named Main. Banks quickly followed. Led by enterprising newcomers, Statesboro's leaders developed a progressive local government and nourished an economy geared to serve the interest of regional farmers.

Twentieth Century

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection
Statesboro Ginnery, ca. 1913
During the first decade of the twentieth century, cotton became king in south Georgia. Statesboro was poised to become the market of choice. In 1908 it led the world in sales of long-staple Sea Island cotton. For each bale of cotton sold in Savannah, ten bales were sold in Statesboro.

After the boll weevil decimated the cotton crop in the 1930s, local farmers shifted to another cash crop: tobacco. This transition allowed the community to recover from the Great Depression more quickly than most. By 1953 more than 20 million pounds of tobacco passed through warehouses in Statesboro, which was then the largest market in the "bright Tobacco Belt" spanning Georgia and Florida.


The reason Statesboro was able to emerge from its long slumber to become a central town in southeastern Georgia is simple: city and county learned to work in tandem. A notable example is the movement in 1906 to obtain a college. When the state announced it would fund an agricultural and mechanical school in Georgia's First Congressional District, a Statesboro-Bulloch committee emerged. More than 100 individuals successfully lobbied for Statesboro as the ideal location. Skillfully they outbid several other communities with similar aspirations. Within a few decades the A&M High School became Georgia Teachers College. In 1990 the state designated the institution Georgia Southern University. At the end of the twentieth century it had become a comprehensive regional university serving a diverse residential student body some 15,000 strong. The school reintroduced football in the 1980s. By 2000 the Eagles had captured six national titles in NCAA's Division I-AA.

In 1989 Ogeechee Technical Institute (later Ogeechee Technical College) opened in Statesboro.

Local observers say that race relations were largely amicable during the twentieth century, though segregation prevailed until the 1960s. Citizens accepted integrated public schools without notable conflict.


A number of major industries moved to Statesboro during the last decade of the twentieth century. The Wal-Mart Distribution Center is a mammoth structure of 2.2 million square feet—the chain's largest in the world. Though boosted by manufacturing and service industries, the current economy still depends heavily on agriculture, as taxpayers acknowledged in 2002 when they overwhelmingly approved public funding of an innovative agricultural center. The same referendum also provided revenue to restore historic downtown buildings as a community arts center.


An important chapter of the city's cultural history took place on the sidewalks in the 1930s as "Blind Willie" McTell played his twelve-string guitar and sang "The Statesboro Blues," now an American blues classic. The Statesboro–Georgia Southern Symphony Orchestra has a long history. Georgia Southern University's museum, botanical garden, and raptor center all focus on serving the public and schools of southeastern Georgia. For decades the campus has been the site of a regional youth arts festival during springtime. The university's Lane-Nessmith Performing Arts Center hosts touring Broadway shows as well as drama, dance, and other public performances. To celebrate the community's bicentennial in 2003, the city sponsored a series of outdoor murals, art exhibitions, and musical performances.

The U.S. census for 2000 recorded a population of 22,698. With a diverse population and growing economy, Statesboro remains true to its heritage, welcoming and depending on outsiders.

Suggested Reading

Dan Bland, "Tales My Mother Told Me," in People, Places and Things, comp. John Lindsey, Kemp Mabry, and Frank Saunders (Statesboro: Georgia Southern University Press, 1983).

Dorothy Brannen, Life in Old Bulloch: The Story of a Wiregrass County in Georgia (Gainesville, Ga.: Magnolia Press, 1987).

Leodel Coleman and G. C. Coleman, The Story of Bulloch County  (Statesboro, Ga.: Bulloch County Historical Society, 1973).

Leodel Coleman and G. C. Coleman, eds., Statesboro, 1866 -1966: A Century of Progress (Statesboro, Ga.: Statesboro Herald Publishing, 1969).

Delma E. Presley, Georgia Southern University

Updated 10/27/2008