In the late 1800s, agriculture in the Oconee Valley centered on cotton and sharecropping.
Landowners subdivided their plantations and farms into parcels to be worked on a shared basis with
their tenants, both black and white. In this relationship landowners often provided housing, tools,
seeds, and fertilizer.
Often tenants were only able to supply labor. They depended on the landowner
or the local merchant to provide all the supplies necessary until the crop was harvested and sold.
Loans, crop liens that were guaranteed using the potential crop, allowed landowners to obtain
farming necessities for the croppers from merchants.
Rising cotton prices created relative prosperity in Georgia staple farming during World War I. But
infestation of cotton fields by boll weevils drastically reduced yields from 1.4 million bales in 1920 to
588,000 in 1923. The economic
decline resulted in a massive exodus out of the Oconee Valley. Between 1920 and 1930 the
population of Putnam County declined by 45%, Greene by 34%, Morgan by 38% and Hancock by
The Depression of 1929 sent farm prices plummeting.
Between 1890 and 1940 thousands of Georgians moved from sharecropping into industrial work in
the region's burgeoning textile and cotton mills.
There were cotton mills in nearby Eatonton, Union Point, and Greensboro.
In the Oconee Valley, Greene County led the way in manufacturing jobs in the late nineteenth
century. Beginning in the 1880s, Putnam County farmers began to abandon cotton farming for
dairying. In Hancock County, cotton fields disappeared and landowners planted pine seedlings. The
pulp wood industry became a major employer in the county and the area.
From the 1870s to the 1920s, railroad construction expanded throughout Georgia. Many citizens
depended upon the rail lines for transportation; they were vital for shipping agricultural products as
well. Beginning in the 1920s, the railroads declined as competition increased from automobiles and
During World War II, the area became an important center for dairy production. The area had
begun to develop its dairy farming in the latter part of the 1800s. Some farmers also began to diversify their farming
to include poultry raising or egg production.
In the 1980s, the creation of Lake Oconee brought about the beginnings of economic change and
progress to the area. The new lake was used not only for generating electric power but also for
recreational purposes. Land values also began to rise as more and more people began to utilize the
area for vacation and later retirement.