County History: Irwin
County was one of seven counties created on Dec. 15, 1818, by an act of the
General Assembly (Ga. Laws 1818, p. 27). [Click
here for a legal description of Irwin County's original boundaries.]
Irwin, Appling, and Early counties extended across south Georgia and were
created from Creek lands acquired in 1814 by the
Treaty of Fort Jackson.
Irwin, Appling, and Early counties were organized by an act of Dec. 21,
1819, which provided for election of county officials in each county.
From 1825 to 1906, portions of Irwin Counties original boundaries were
used to create the following counties: Lowndes and Thomas (1825), Worth
(1853), Coffee (1854), Berrien (1856), Wilcox (1857), Tift and Turner
(1905), and Ben Hill (1906).
Georgia's 41st county was named for former Georgia governor Jared Irwin
(1750-1818). [For more information on Jared Irwin, click
For more on the history of Irwin County, click
County Seat: The Dec.
21, 1819 act organizing Irwin County authorized the five justices of the
county's first inferior court to select the location of the county's seat of
government, which was to be "as near the centre thereof as convenience will
admit" (Ga. Laws 1819, p. 65). Until a county seat was selected and a
courthouse built, county courts were to meet in the home of David Williams.
Irwin County's inferior court was unable to decide on where the county seat
should be located, so on Dec. 21, 1820, the legislature authorized the
inferior court to select a temporary county seat until a permanent one could
be designated (Ga. Laws 1820, p. 28). What happened next is unclear. Maps of
Georgia published in 1822 and 1823 show a site in north Irwin County marked
"C.H." -- which indicates the location of the courthouse. However, Irwin
County did not yet have an official county seat. On Dec. 13, 1823, the
legislature vested William Foulsom, James Crum, Sellaway McCall, Joshua
Griffin, and Alexander McDaniel as courthouse and jail commissioners with
the authority formerly delegated to the inferior court (Ga. Laws 1823, p.
On Dec. 24, 1825, the legislature authorized the five courthouse
commissioners named above to also select a county seat for Irwin County and
to purchase land, have lots laid off, and sell the lots (Ga. Laws 1825, p.
55). The act further provided that once a county site had been chosen, the
inferior court was then responsible for contracting to have a courthouse and
jail built. However, the commissioners could not agree on where to locate
Irwin's county seat -- so on Dec. 19, 1827, the legislature appointed
Cornelius Tison, Lott Whitten, Jonathan Smith, Miles Adams, James L. Wilcox,
Ludd Mobly, and Jacob Paulk as new commissioners to select a county seat
(Ga. Laws 1827, p. 187).
On Dec. 23, 1830, the legislature finally stepped in and designated the
location of Irwin County's seat of government as land lot 225 in the fourth
district of the county (Ga. Laws 1830, p. 216). If that lot could not be
purchased, the act authorized the purchase of any lot within two miles of
lot 225 for use as the county seat. The legislature also directed that the
county seat be named Irwinsville.
For whatever reason, the legislature on Dec. 22, 1831 changed the
location of Irwin's county seat to land lot 39 in the third district, though
again directing that it be named Irwinsville (Ga. Laws 1831, p. 81). The act
named Robert H. Dixon, Jacob Young, William Bradford, Daniel Look, and
Reuben Marsh as commissioners with authority to lay out and sell town lots
and to contract for building a courthouse and jail. On Dec. 22, 1857, the
legislature incorporated Irwin County's seat of government as "Irwinville"
-- and not "Irwinsville" as directed in the 1830 and 1831 acts (Ga. Laws
1857, p. 179).
Around 1880, a community named Ocilla developed around 10 miles southeast
of Irwinville. (The name Ocilla was of Creek origin, believed to be the name
of an Indian town or chief.) Built around timber and turpentine, Ocilla grew
rapidly after a railroad from Fitzgerald was completed in 1897. That same
year, the legislature incorporated Ocilla on Nov. 24 (Ga. Laws 1897, p.
Soon afterwards, the railroad was extended southward, connecting Ocilla
to major railroads. Within 10 years, the town's population tripled.
Meanwhile, Irwinville declined as residents and businesses moved to Ocilla
On April 29, 1907, a petition to change the county seat from Irwinville
to Ocilla signed by two-fifths of the voters of Irwin County was submitted
to the county ordinary (probate judge). That same day, the ordinary directed
that an election be held on June 12, 1907. In that election, over two-thirds
of the vote supported removal of the county seat, so on Aug. 19, 1907, the
legislature designated Ocilla as the new county seat of Irwin County (Ga.
Laws 1907, p. 307). A new courthouse in Ocilla was not completed until 1910,
so Irvinville may have continued as de facto county seat from 1907 to 1910
due to the fact that the county courthouse was located there.