History of Society
By Michael W.Kitchens, April 2015
(Building upon the history prepared by Sue Fan Tate in 1980, and later expanded by Charlotte Thomas Marshall, then Eve B. Mayes)
The Athens Historical Society (AHS) was first organized on February 3, 1899. On that cold Friday night twenty Athenians gathered at the antebellum mansion of Augustus (“Gus”) Longstreet Hull (1847-1909) to form a group whose purpose was to preserve, record and protect the history of our great city.
It was only fitting that they met in the home of Augustus Longstreet Hull, as he is one of Athens, Georgia’s most prolific and notable historians. By the time the Athens Historical Society was formed that night, Hull had already authored A Historical Sketch of the University of Georgia in 1894 and Sketches of Athens, Georgia from 1830- 1865 in 1893. He had also edited Sketches from the Early History of Athens, Georgia 1801-1825 authored by his father, Dr. Henry Hull. Seven years later Augustus Longstreet Hull was to publish perhaps his best known work, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901. This book has become the first source most historians consult when studying the earliest years of Athens and the University of Georgia.
Gus Hull was elected as the organization’s first president. The first roll of members of the organization reads like a Who’s Who of Athens and Georgia history: it included Howell Cobb, Jr., J. H. T. McPherson, J. C. Bloomfield, Sylvanus Morris, H. H. Carlton, E. D. Newton, D. C. Barrow, W. W. Thomas, H. C. White, S. C. Upson, Harry Hodgson, Ulrich B. Phillips, H. H. Linton, and J. D. Mell, among others.
The organization was an active one during its first year of existence with local newspapers writing accounts of their meetings in which each respective member would make presentations to the group on areas of historical interest which they had researched. However, after 1899, no further notice was taken of the society in local papers. It is not known for how long the first iteration of the society remained intact. For reasons now lost in the haze of time, however, the AHS disappeared.
It was not until October 11, 1959 that a second group of Athens’ history-minded citizens gathered to reconstitute the Athens Historical Society into a vibrant organization and the AHS was re-born. Such distinguished Athenians forming this group included Sarah Maret, Director of the Athens Regional Library; John E. Talmadge, Professor of English at the University of Georgia; Porter Kellam, Director of the University of Georgia Library; Kenneth Coleman, Professor of History at the University of Georgia; Richard N. Fickett III, an Athens antiquarian; Marion West Marshall, the wife of distinguished UGA Professor of English, George Marshall; Harry Hodgson, Sr., UGA Trustee and Athens businessman; John W. Bonner, Special Collections Librarian, the University of Georgia Library; Susan B. Tate, Library Assistant, the University of Georgia Library; Miss Lucy Clark, English teacher at Athens High School; and Robert G. Gibson, an Athens lawyer.
Temporary committees were formed to plan the general organizational meeting held on October 29, 1959. At this meeting the organization’s constitution was approved and the society’s goals and purposes were formulated. These goals have remained largely unchanged since that time.
Purpose and Goals of the Athens Historical Society:
- To discover, collect and preserve all materials, especially original and source materials, pertaining to Athens’ and regional history;
- To disseminate this knowledge for the enlightenment of our citizenry through preparing, editing and publishing historical materials descriptive of Athens and the area;
- To sponsor programs and activities of historical interest;
- To promote historical research;
- To promote preservation and perpetuation of historic sites;
- To bring together those interested in the history of Athens and it surrounding area;
- To promote public interest in the history of Athens; and
- To develop the citizenry’s understanding of their historic past.
The goals of the AHS have wide-reaching appeal. Although the society’s membership rolls fluctuate from year to year, it has boasted as many as 600 members. In April 1980 the AHS incorporated for the first time, and in March 1989 the organization received its 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation status. The organization continues to operate as a non-profit today.
In an effort to serve its membership and the community at large and to fulfil its purpose to protect, promote and record the history of Athens and its surrounding area, the AHS hosts at least four programs each year in which authors, historians, and/or lecturers conduct seminars or offer presentations about topics of interest. In recent years well-attended programs have been offered on early maps of Athens, Augustus Longstreet Hull and his impact on Athens history, historic landmarks on the UGA campus, and Athens’ prominent position as an industrial center in the antebellum South.
The society has also organized and sponsored on-site visits and one-day rambles to historic properties providing a unique opportunity for members to obtain personal experience with the places impacting the history of our region, state and nation. However, programs and site visits make up only part of AHS’s offerings. The society also hosts various social gatherings during the course of a year, including receptions and holiday parties. Nearly all of the foregoing events are free to society members.
Other projects through which the AHS meets its historical preservation and promotional mandates are the sponsoring, placement, and erection of state historical markers; the publication of unique works by both academic and non-academic authors; the publication of the society’s own papers via The Historian; and hosting exhibits of historical interest. For example, the society published and sold books important to recording Athens’ history, including, among others, Charlotte Thomas Marshall’s Historic Houses of Athens (1987, out of print); Gary Doster’s A Postcard History of Athens, Georgia (2002); and Charlotte Thomas Marshall’s Oconee Hill Cemetery, Volume I (2009).
Today, the AHS continues to be an important conduit linking Athens’ past to its present. Its membership is open to anyone interested in history. Members not only benefit from the numerous events, programs, and publications sponsored by the organization, but are encouraged to participate in fulfilling the society’s goals.
Please consider joining this historic organization today so that, together, we can expand and preserve the knowledge of our yesterdays.