In 1821, a section of Creek Indian land was ceded to the state of Georgia, and Houston County was carved from the wilderness. The earliest white settlers to this area came from coastal Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia as the 1821 Land Lottery opened up this area for settlement. The soil here was fertile and these new settlers were able to establish farms where they grew corn, wheat, potatoes, and garden vegetables in the rich sandy loam that makes up most of the county. Proximity to the Ocmulgee River made the exporting of cotton and the importing of manufactured goods a reality. The district around Elko, called the Old Thirteenth Georgia Military District, had been devoted mainly to cotton farming since Houston County was established in the 1820s.
On a map from 1864, a community known as Graceville was located here, but following the Civil War, Houston County was changing and Graceville would too. As the county grew to become one of the greatest fruit-producing sections in the U.S.- with some of the largest peach orchards in the world. The agricultural industry here brought prosperity to portions of the county and by the Spring of 1888, the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad (GS&F) completed a line through Houston County. Here in the southern part of the county, the railroad passed through former Graceville, and GS&F Railroad sold land lots for a new town. The place name of ‘Elko’ was first recorded here in 1889. In 1891, the railroad town was incorporated with an elected mayor-council government. A railroad depot was built and regular passenger service began in March 1890. The railroad depot at Elko was the center of business and social life for the town and crowds greeted the daily trains that ran from Macon through Valdosta, to Palatka, FL. Access to the rail line changed things for this small community. Because of the railroad, Elko residents could go shopping in Macon and return home the same evening. They could also travel overnight to Florida and visit the resorts at St. Augustine.
In 1892, the Jeter Family deeded land for a Methodist Church and membership for the new congregation grew out of the membership of Hickory Grove Church, located a few miles away. The first building was a small frame structure built around 1892 but was struck by lightning and destroyed. In 1910, the congregation ordered the bricks for a new church building, but when the train car arrived, the members could not agree on where to locate the new church. As the railroad was about to return the shipment of bricks, Rev. E.E. Gardner, the pastor, and church member Jere Dean Grace unloaded the entire lot of bricks themselves.
By the late 1890s, a community newspaper, The Elkonian, was developed, and by 1900, the population of Elko was 500. The community prospered over the next decade and in 1905, the Bank of Elko was founded. But prosperity was short-lived when tornados hit the town and two separate fires burned many buildings. In 1915, Elko was impacted by the boll weevil that decimated cotton crops completely through the 1920s. In some cases, farmers were forced to develop different crops, like Elberta Peaches, that have helped Houston County to keep up its reputation as an agricultural center. However the community of Elko never grew much after the 1920s and for a time, both churches in the community closed for a period of time. However, we’re pleased to share that today, both Elko UMC and Elko Baptist have small but continuing congregations.
Here we see the view from the pulpit which was donated in 1969 by Rev. C.D. Herrington in memory of his wife, Lorine.
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