NAME THAT COUNTY
Wheeler County Was It in 1912
It was time to chose. There was no time for bickering, no time to lose. The newest county in Georgia, cut off from western Montgomery County on the western side of the Oconee River, was either going to be Wheeler County or Kent County. Funny how naming a county can bring out so much animosity, so much dissension, mixed with a smattering of apathy.
With the beginning of the 20th Century in Georgia, a monumental movement to establish new counties by carving them out of allegedly oversized ones. The process gave self appointed political power to remote regions of larger counties. Laurens County, the third largest county in the state, was the target of at least four new county movements.
The residents of western Montgomery County, those living on the western side of the Oconee River wanted to control their own destiny. Among them was William B. Kent. Kent, who had been a hero of Georgia Bulldog football back at the end of the 19th Century as the team's captain, but became a legend of sorts when he led the effort to keep the sport after the tragic on the field death of Georgia back Richard Von Gammon threatened to end the playing of football in Georgia.
After his graduation from Georgia, Kent was admitted to the bar, beginning his practice in Alamo. In addition to his duties as an attorney, Kent served as both solicitor and judge of the City Court of Mt. Vernon, a state court assigned to handle misdemeanor offenses and minor civil claims.
In 1910, Kent, the former football hero, was elected to represent Montgomery County in the Georgia legislature.
As a resident of the west side of Montgomery County, Kent was urged by his fellow west side friends and neighbors to introduce a bill in the Georgia legislature to create a new county. New county promoters kicked off a series of big barbecues in Alamo on Memorial Day weekend.
Kent was more than willing to oblige, even if it meant defeat in the 1912 Democratic primary. There were no Republicans of any consequence in those days.
If the move to create a new county so agitated the east siders of Mount Vernon that they voted him out of office, then the victorious Kent's eponymous choice of the county's name would be an eternal consolation prize. Rep. Kent claimed that the new county was to be named Kent County, not in his own honor, but in honor of his father, an early settler of the area.
Besides, Kent had more pressing concerns. He had been fighting his disbarment from the bar for alleged improper actions.
Kent was chosen to serve as the first judge of the Wheeler County Court of Ordinary, or as it is today known, the Probate Court.
It was in early August of 1912 when the leaders of the House of Representatives and the leaders of the Senate hammered out their differences. Rep. Kent, in the midst of a tight campaign for reelecting, dropped his request to name the new county for himself or his father and agreed to allow the new county to be named for Augusta, Georgia native and Confederate Calvary general, Joseph Wheeler. Wheeler, was one of the few generals of the Civil War, who served in the United States Army during the Spanish American War.
Most of the opposition to Kent's original proposition came from the residents of Mt. Vernon. The compromise also called for the new county seat to be in Alamo, which was incorporated some three years prior to the formation of Wheeler County.
Representative Cook, of adjoining Telfair County, was given permission to rise to speak on a point of privilege during a morning session of the House on August 9, 1912. Too feeble to actually speak, Cook sent his stern and carefully written message to the Clerk to read aloud before those members in attendance. Cook charged that his fellow representative misrepresented the population numbers and in conclusion, charged that the whole affair was a result of "demon politics."
The cutting off of Montgomery County cost W.B. Kent his seat in the legislature. J.C. Johnson, a resident of the eastern side of the county, narrowly defeated Kent by a margin of 114 votes.
A big part of the deal was that the county's commissioners appropriate $20,000.00 to build a jail and a courthouse, the latter of which was constructed in 1913 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The deaccession of Montgomery left it with a population of 12,000 people while Wheeler's estimated population stood at 10,000. What made things worse was that within five years, Montgomery County would lose a substantial portion of its northwestern lands to the new county of Treutlen, a move backed by Representative Johnson.
Despite the approval of the measure creating the new county Wheeler, final approval of the bill creating the new county would be up to the voters of Georgia, who usually, as a whole, cared nothing at all about counties being split, unless of course, the voters were losing a part of their own county. To boost their chances of winning passage, backers sought out and won the approval of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, F & A.M.. The members of the Masonic lodges were some of the most influential and respected men in the state.
The general election was held on November 5, 1912. Wheeler boosters sent out an appeal to approve the constitutional amendment to honor the memory of that glorious Georgian, a hero of two wars.
As expected, the voters of Georgia, in an act of courtesy, passed the constitutional amendment and Wheeler County, Georgia was officially established one hundred years ago.