Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Rome is the largest city and the county seat of Floyd County, Georgia, United States. It is the principal city of the Rome, Georgia, Metropolitan Statistical Area, population 96,250 (2009), which encompasses all of Floyd County. At the 2010 census, the city itself had a total population of 36,303, and is the largest city in Northwest Georgia and the 19th largest city in the state.
Although no Interstate highway passes through Rome, it is the second largest city, after Gadsden, Alabama, near the center of the triangular area defined by the Interstate highways between Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga, which contributes to its importance as a regional center in several areas, such as medical care and education. Rome is the home of Darlington School, Berry College and Shorter University.
Rome's name is a commemoration of the Italian city of Rome. Rome, Georgia, was built on seven hills with a river running between them, a feature that was an inspiration for the name. This connection is emphasized by a replica of the statue of Romulus and Remus nursing from a mother wolf, a symbol of the original Rome, which was a 1929 gift from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Native American era
Life in the area of Rome before the Spaniard expeditions in the 16th century is largely unknown, due to the native inhabitants' lack of written records.
There is some debate over whether Hernando de Soto was the first Spanish conquistador to encounter Native Americans in the area now known as Rome, but it is usually agreed that he passed through the region with his expedition in 1540. In 1560, Tristán de Luna sent a detachment of 140 soldiers and two Dominican friars north along de Soto's route, and it is this group that established true relations with the Coosa chiefdom as they assisted the Coosa in a raid against the rebellious province of Napochín, in what is now known as Tennessee. Exposed to unfamiliar European diseases, within 20 years these Mound Builders were gone, replaced by the Creek.
The Abihka tribe of Creek in the area of Rome later became part of the Upper Creek, and merged with other tribes to become the Ulibahalis, who later migrated westerward into Alabama in the general region of Gadsden, and were replaced by the Cherokee in the mid-18th century.
There was a Cherokee village named Chatuga near the site of Rome that had been established during the Chickamauga Wars. The Cherokee also referred to the area that would become Rome as "Head of Coosa", and it eventually became home to several Cherokee leaders, including Chiefs Major Ridge and John Ross. Ridge's home here was known for years as Chieftains House, and is now Chieftains Museum.
In the 18th century, a high demand in Europe for American deer skins had led to a brisk trade between Indian hunters and white traders, and as a result, a few white traders and some settlers (primarily from the British Colonies of Georgia and Carolina) were accepted by the Head of Coosa Cherokee. These were later joined by missionaries, and then more settlers. After the American War of Independence, most new settlers came from the area of the Georgia East of the Proclamation Line of 1763.
During the 1813 Creek Civil War, most Cherokee took the side of the Upper Creek Indians against the Red Stick Creek Indians. Before they moved to Head of Coosa, Chief Ridge commanded a company of Cherokee warriors as a unit of the Tennessee militia, with Chief Ross as adjutant. This unit was under the overall command of Andrew Jackson, and supported the Upper Creek.
City founding period
In 1834, the city of Rome was founded by Col. Daniel R. Mitchell, Col. Zacharia Hargrove, Maj. Philip Hemphill, Col. William Smith, and Mr. John Lumpkin (nephew of Governor Lumpkin), who determined the name for the new city by holding a drawing. Each put his choice in a hat, with Col. Mitchell submitting the name of Rome in reference to the area's hills and rivers. Mitchell's submission was selected, and the Georgia Legislature made Rome an official city in 1835. The County Seat was subsequently moved east from the village of Livingston to Rome.
With the entire area still occupied primarily by Cherokee, the city served the agrarian needs of the new cotton-based economy that had begun to replace deer-skin trading after the invention of the cotton gin. The first steamboat navigated the Coosa River to Rome in 1836, reducing the time-to-market for the cotton trade and speeding travel between Rome and the Gulf Coast.
By 1838, the Cherokee had run out of legal options, and were the last of the major tribes to be forcibly moved to the Indian Territories (in modern-day Oklahoma) on the Trail of Tears. After the removal of the Cherokee, their homes and businesses were taken over by whites, and the Roman economy continued to grow. In 1849, an 18-mile rail spur to the Western and Atlantic Railroad in Kingston was completed roughly along the current path of Georgia Highway 293, significantly improving transportation to the east.
Civil war period
In April 1863, during the U.S. Civil War, the city was defended by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest against Union Colonel Abel Streight's "lightning mule" raid from the area east of modern day Cedar Bluff, Alabama. General Forrest tricked Colonel Streight into surrendering just a few miles shy of Rome. Realizing their vulnerability, Rome's city council allocated $3,000 to build three fortifications. Although these became operational by October 1863, efforts to strengthen the forts continued as the war progressed. These forts were named after Romans who had been killed in action: Fort Attaway was on the western bank of the Oostanaula River, Fort Norton was on the eastern bank of the Oostanaula, and Fort Stovall was on the southern bank of the Etowah River. At least one other fort was later built on the northern side of the Coosa River.
In May 1864, Union General Jefferson C. Davis, under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, attacked and captured Rome when the outflanked Confederate defenders retreated under command of Major GeneralSamuel Gibbs French. Union General William Vandever was stationed in Rome and is depicted with his staff in a picture taken there. Due to Rome's forts and iron works, which included the manufacture of cannons, Rome was a significant target during Sherman's destructive march through Georgia. Davis's forces occupied Rome for several months, making repairs to the damaged forts and briefly quartering General Sherman. Foreshadowing Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 120, Union forces destroyed Rome's forts, iron works, the rail line to Kingston, and any other material that could be useful to the South's war effort as they withdrew from Rome to participate in the Atlanta Campaign.
In 1871, Rome constructed a water tank on Neely Hill, which overlooks the downtown district. This later became a clock tower, and has served as the town's iconic landmark ever since, appearing in the city's crest and local business logos. As a result, Neely Hill is also referred to as Clock Tower Hill.
With two rivers merging to form a third, Rome has occasionally been subjected to serious flooding. The first severe flood after Rome became a city was the flood of 1886, which inundated the city and allowed a steamboat to travel down Broad Street. In 1891, upon recommendation of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Georgia State Legislature amended Rome's charter to create a commission to oversee the construction of river levees to protect the town against future floods. In the late 1890s, additional flood control measures were instituted, including raising the height of Broad Street by about 15 feet. As a result, many of the below-ground basements of Rome's historic buildings were originally ground level entrances.
Capitoline WolfIn 1928, the American Chatillon Company began construction of a rayon plant in Rome as a joint effort with the Italian Chatillon Corporation. Italian premier Benito Mussolini sent a block of marble from the ancient Roman Forum, inscribed "From Old Rome to New Rome", to be used as the cornerstone of the new rayon plant. After the rayon plant was completed in 1929, Mussolini honored Rome with a bronze replica of the sculpture of Romulus and Remus nursing from the Capitoline Wolf. The statue was placed in front of City Hall on a base of white marble from Tate, Georgia, with a brass plaque inscribed
"This statue of the Capitoline Wolf, as a forecast of prosperity and glory, has been sent from Ancient Rome to New Rome during the consulship of Benito Mussolini in the year 1929."
In 1940, anti-Italian sentiment due to World War II became so strong that the Rome city commission moved the statue into storage to prevent vandalism and replaced it with an American flag. In 1952, the statue was restored to its former location in front of City Hall.
In Rome, the effect of The Great Depression was significantly less severe than in other, larger cities across America. Since Rome was an agricultural town, a scarcity of food was not an issue. The fact that Rome had its own textile mill that provided steady jobs was also a buffer against the hardships of the Great Depression.
An important segue into the Great Depression was the "Cotton Bust" which had hit Rome in mid 1920s, and caused many farmers to move away, sell their land or convert to other agricultural crops, such as corn. The "Cotton Bust" was the effect of the Boll Weevil, a tiny bug which was introduced to Georgia in 1915. Before the Boll Weevil came to Georgia, cotton was an abundant and cheap resource, but when the boll weevil came to Rome and North Georgia it destroyed many fields of cotton and put a damper on Rome's economy.
While the Great Depression had its effect on Rome, the area was not as devastated as many of the big cities; however, it did put many families through hard financial times. Jobs were scarce and prices of food and basic commodities went up. Even the "postal employees took a fifteen per cent cut in pay, and volunteered a further ten per cent reduction in work time in order to save the jobs of substitute employees who otherwise would have been thrown out of work." Romans bought tickets to a show put on by local performers and the fares went directly to grocers who made boxes of food to sell at a discount price to the needy families.
To lower the number of unemployed during this time, S.H. Smith, Sr. tore down the Armstrong hotel. Afterward, he employed many people to help build the towering Greystone Hotel at the corner of Broad St. and East Second St. in 1927. The Rome News-Tribune reported on November 30, 1933 an increase in local building permits for a total of $95,800; of this amount, $85,000 was invested by S.H. Smith, Sr., in the construction of the Greystone Hotel. The Greystone Apartments were added in 1936.