History of Villa Rica

Villa Rica is known as the City of Gold where arts and culture are at the heart and soul of the community. The city boasts the first Gold Strike in Georgia and that history is captured daily at the Pine Mountain Gold Museum at Stockmar Park, the historical landmark for the city.

Villa Rica is where you can experience the feel of an old mercantile or stroll along our raised sidewalks, dotted with Crepe Myrtle’s, and choose from a variety of shops and restaurants. Enjoy our Historic Downtown with its authentic architecture and be sure to stop by and view the architecture of Wick’s Tavern the oldest commercial structure in West Georgia. Visit the Pine Mountain Gold Museum where you can walk the trails where miners walked, pan for gold and gems and enjoy the museum and documentary film, all in one location! No matter what you’re looking for, you can still discover gold in Villa Rica!

Located just 35 miles west of downtown Atlanta, Villa Rica is conveniently located just off Interstate 20. Jobs, a relatively low cost of living and access to healthcare and excellent schools are responsible for the city’s 5.1 percent population growth since the 2010 census. The city is currently experiencing an uptick in growth with an average of 24 persons moving to Villa Rica each month thanks to new industry and the expansion of existing businesses throughout the community.

Villa Rica is a city on the move where residents take much civic pride in the community. The city recently broke ground on a new $4.8M public library that is being constructed on the Tanner Medical Center Campus along Dallas Highway as a joint project with the West Georgia Regional Library System. The 16,370 sq. ft. building is expected to be open to the public in June 2016. Villa Rica also recently purchased 13.44 acres of land abutting the Villa Rica Civic Center & Sports Complex (V-Plex) for new ball fields as well as 75.48 acres of land off Georgia Highway 101 – Rockmart Road for future economic development.

A key strategy in economic development has been the expansion of existing businesses and industry in Villa Rica. Tanner Health System recently announced some $40M in new construction and renovations on the Villa Rica campus, including a three-story, 25,000 sq. ft. building to house new services and provides room for expansion of current offerings.

Sugar Foods also penned a deal for the 60-year-old food products company to invest more than $30M into an addition at its Industrial Park location. The proposed expansion is expected to result in 100 new jobs. And the Southwire Company – the nation’s largest maker of wire and cable – is also expanding its operations in Villa Rica with plans to increase employment in the area by 60 jobs. A number of other economic development deals are in the works and are expected to be announced soon.

Thanks to the leadership of Mayor J. Collins and the Villa Rica City Council, the city is in great financial health and is debt free with the exception of approximately $34M in revenue bonds for the waste water treatment plan. The city’s $10M operating budget is much more than a financial document; it is the city’s vision statement and policy document. Villa Rica’s priority is to always to be good stewards of the public’s tax dollars residents pay to run our great city.

Villa Rica is rich in history and is home to Coca-Cola legend Asa Candler and Gospel Music founder Thomas A. Dorsey. The city has gained notoriety of late from such hometown celebrities as Boston Celtic Jae Crowder and comedian (and Season 8 winner of The Last Comic Standing) Rod Man.

If you’re looking to improve your quality of life, Villa Rica is where you want to call home. We are VR!

History

Still standing, Wicks Tavern was built in 1830 and was major competition for Hix Tavern.

The location which was to become Villa Rica was originally settled in 1826 along what is now Dallas Highway. This land was ceded by the Creek people in 1825 with the second Treaty of Indian Springs signed by Chief William McIntosh. In 1826, farmers and gold miners arrived in the area from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to what was then known as Hixtown (named after a local tavern operator, incorporated in 1830). One mile south was Chevestown, owned by Allison Cheeves. Hixtown and Cheevestown moved to Villa Rica’s present location in 1882 when the railroad was built. Many of the original structures were physically moved to the new site (now known as the North Villa Rica Commercial Historic District) by rolling them on logs pulled by horses.  The city was incorporated as Villa Rica in 1881. The name Villa Rica is derived from Spanish for “rich village” and the city’s name change was done to help promote the gold in the area.

Old Villa Rica (Hixtown)

Shortly after the arrival of the wagons in 1826, gold was discovered here. 1826 was also the year that Carroll County was created and named for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland because he was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although it did not develop into the large gold rush that would strike Georgia a few years later, there was a small gold rush in Villa Rica in the late 1820s. When the Georgia Gold Rush took hold in 1829, most of the Villa Rica miners moved northeast to the Dahlonega area. Nevertheless, some mining continued in the area, with several hundred men employed in nearby mines. In 1832, Hixtown had more than 2,000 residents (60% of the county’s population). Gold lots were $500 per acre compared to $2 per acre for land elsewhere in the county. There were at least 19 active gold mines. By 1860, the gold supplies in the area had been largely exhausted.

Early Villa Rica had a Wild West atmosphere complete with Indians, horse thieves and vigilante justice. The Creek Indian village was located on Sweetwater Creek east of town. They were hunters, not warriors, and were friendly toward the white settlers eventually taking on work amongst the settlers. Townspeople were invited to Creek celebrations including a three day festival held each autumn with lots of food and activities. At some point later in the 1830s, the Creeks moved to either Arkansas or Oklahoma, but local records are unclear whether or not this was by choice or part of the Trail of Tears.

The local horse thieves were known as the Pony Club and the vigilantes were the Slicks. At first, the Slicks would just hold Pony Club members caught stealing horses until a jury trial could be held. But Pony Club members usually had no trouble finding witnesses to prove their innocence so the Slicks eventually started holding their own trials, and the guilty were whipped. Things came to a head during the election of 1832 when large numbers of Pony Club members and Slicks got into a brawl. The Slicks won the fight and the Pony Club demanded a Grand Jury try the Slicks on charges of assault and battery with intent to kill. However, the jury ended up commending the Slicks and thanking them for their work.

New Villa Rica

This is a handbill originally distributed to announce a land sale in Villa Rica, Georgia, circa 1882.

With the arrival of the new railroad line, Hixtown and Cheevestown combined to become the new City of Villa Rica. The first train rolled through town in June 1882. A round trip ticket from the Union Passenger Depot in Atlanta was only $1.00.

This young community experienced two disastrous fires almost immediately. The first fire occurred in the business section on Montgomery Street in 1890. An entire block of stores composed of entirely wooden buildings was destroyed. The second fire occurred Monday night, July 27, 1908. The fire was bolstered by heating oil and chemicals from the drug store in which it started. Because of the strength of the fire, much of the focus was on saving the stock of the affected stores. In all, one quarter of Villa Rica’s business district was destroyed in three hours.

Bankhead Highway was surveyed and eventually passed though Villa Rica in 1917. Named for Alabama Senator [John Hollis Bankhead], it was the second transcontinental highway in the United States and the first all weather one. In the 1930s, it was rerouted though town taking down the Velvin Hotel and extending Montgomery Street westward. It was a main east-west route through the area until Interstate 20 opened in December 1977.

On May 4, 1961, The Freedom Riders passed through Villa Rica. This is the same day their bus was burned in Anniston, Alabama. At the time the bus station was in the Kinney Building on South Carroll Road.

Historic Sites

  • Wicks Tavern—c. 1830—Wicks Tavern is the oldest commercial structure in Carroll County. The tavern was built in Hixtown by New York immigrant John B. Wick. Wick’s Tavern was a local gathering place for gold miners working area mines in the early 19th century. The building is a classic example of the “Dutch”-style timber framing method. When the Georgia-Pacific Railroad came through town in 1882 and the homes and businesses were moved, the tavern was considered too large to be moved. It was later turned into a home. In 1998, the “Friends of Wick’s Tavern” raised the funds necessary to rescue this historic building from being demolished and finally helped it make the journey to Downtown Villa Rica that it never got one hundred plus years earlier. Wicks Tavern now serves as a living history museum and the home of Forrest Escort SCV and the Friends of Wicks Tavern.
  • Stockmar Gold Mine—19th-20th centuries—presently operating as Pine Mountain Gold Museum — a city park and gold museum.
  • Fullerville—1916-1956—small community northwest of Villa Rica which had several textile mills (notably hosiery). Fullerville was granted a charter in 1916 but returned it to the state in 1956 at the same time allowed the city to be annexed into Villa Rica. The area retains its early 20 character. Its most notable feature is the Fullerville Jail which dates to 1828 on county property records.
  • Mt. Prospect Baptist Church—The church was officially formed in July 1887. The first church building was erected in 1888-1890 on Beecher Hill (now Wilson Street) and was dedicated on the 2nd Sunday in May, 1892. This was the building Thomas A. Dorsey learned about music in. The second church building, built in 1928, was the first black owned church building in Carroll County. This building was destroyed by fire in February 1945. A new church building was immediately commissioned and completed in five months. In 2005, work began on a larger sanctuary next to the existing one and the congregation moved into the new church March 11, 2007.
  • Villa Rica First Presbyterian Church

    First Presbyterian Church of Villa Rica—The church was organized as Villa Rica Presbyterian Church in 1855. A white frame building was constructed on Candler Street in 1885 for worship. The building was moved to its current location in 1930 onto property donated by the family of Mr. W. B. Candler who had served as Clerk of Session from 1888 to 1921. The structure was bricked, and a basement was added for Sunday School rooms. The mahogany pews, pulpit, and the stained glass windows were purchased from Old Wesley Memorial Church in Atlanta when it was torn down. The windows were made from a color formula that has been lost over time, making them irreplaceable antiques. The Candler home, which was situated behind the church building, served the church in many capacities before it was torn down in 1998 and replaced with a new fellowship building.

  • First United Methodist Church of Villa Rica—Although historic documentation is sketchy, it is believed that the Methodist Church built their first building, a log cabin, in 1830 making them the first church in the city. Around 1845, a wooden church building was built. When Hixtown moved and Villa Rica was created, the church elected to build a new white frame church. It was constructed in 1886 on the current church site. The old church was abandoned in 1890. The construction on the current church began in 1905 and was first used in July 1906.

Registered Historic Places

A photo of the nationally registered historic round barn in Villa Rica, GA, showing its state of disrepair.

The Dorough Round Barn and Farm was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 20, 1980. Located about three miles southwest of Villa Rica on Hickory Level Road, the farm consists of a 19th-century farmhouse, several other outbuildings and the famous round barn. Built in 1917, the Round Barn is quite significant architecturally due to its circular shape. When constructed, this would have been considered a progressive agricultural building technique. The barn was designed by Floyd Lovell. It had two levels, the upper one smaller than the lower. At the time the barn was added, it was still generally structurally intact. The upper level is now completely gone and the lower level is falling apart as well. The barn is privately owned, and it is unknown whether or not there are any plans to restore it.

The North Villa Rica Commercial Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 2002. This district includes several blocks of buildings, some dating back to 1875, which were built in the early commercial style. The area houses the City of Villa Rica Police Department along with several antique stores, restaurants and other commercial businesses. The boundary is basically North Avenue, East Gordon Street, West Church Street and the Southern Railroad line.

The Williams Family Farm was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 25, 2005. The farmhouse, built in 1892, is in excellent condition and sits in front of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp established in 1937 to help struggling farmers with their cotton fields. There are several outbuildings and an historic landscape. This farm is also known as the Williams-Mitchell Farm.

The South Commercial Historic District is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but the completed nomination form is currently held up because of the controversy over the Old Library/Old Clinic for the past several years. The building being one of the most significant in West Georgia and a keystone of the proposed historic district.

Historic Markers

Berry’s Pharmacy with historic marker out front.

Villa Rica currently has three historic markers. The first one was erected in 1994 marking the birthplace of Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music. Dorsey learned about music as a child at Mt. Prospect Baptist Church. After leaving Villa Rica, Dorsey became a famous blues musician known as Georgia Tom. After the death of his first wife and son, he returned to religious music but the influence of the blues resulted in the creation of a new style of music which was eventually referred to as gospel.

The second historic marker was erected in 2003 with information about the grove, the ancestral home of the Tyson family. Having moved here in 1853, the Tysons are amongst the oldest families in Villa Rica.

The third historic marker was erected in 2007 on the 50th anniversary of the Villa Rica Explosion. The explosion was caused by a gas leak in Berry’s Pharmacy which completely destroyed that building and three neighboring buildings. Twelve people died and twenty others were injured. In terms of injury and loss of life, the explosion remains the most catastrophic event in Carroll County history.

       
       
       
       
      City of Villa Rica | 571 W Bankhead Hwy Villa Rica, GA 30180  |  Phone: 770-459-7000  |  Fax: 770-459-7003
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