The area of Georgia designated as Milton County was originally part of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokees and the early white settlers lived together peacefully for a number of years. In 1930, the state of Georgia took over the Cherokee lands carving them out into ten separate counties. They then distributed them to whites in the 1832 land lottery, expelling the remaining native Americans to Oklahoma in 1838-39 on the Trail of Tears.
Original Milton County 1883 Map, with (counterclockwise from lower right) Gwinnett to the southeast, Forsyth to the northeast, Cherokee to the northwest, Cobb to the southwest, and Fulton (Hammond, now Sandy Springs) and DeKalb (Chamblee and Dunwoody) to the south. The northern edge of DeKalb also now no longer touches the river, as it did then. This section, north of Dunwoody Club Drive, is now the panhandle of Sandy Springs. The need for a more accessible county seat from parts of northeastern Cobb, southeastern Cherokee, and southwestern Forsyth counties. led to the creation of Milton County on December 18, 1857. In 1859 small portions of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties were added.
Evolving from a Methodist settlement of tents and other temporary housing called New Prospect Campground, the city of Alpharetta was incorporated in 1858 and designated as the county seat due to its median location and population.
Milton County was named for John Milton, Georgia's first secretary of state, who was elected three times. A lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War (1775-83), he is credited with saving and preserving the state's official records during the British occupation. According to W. S. “Billy” Gates, Famous Milton County Historian, some of John Milton’s descendants were General Homer V. Milton of the 1812 war, Governor John Milton of the state of Florida, General William H. Milton of the Confederate Army, and Mrs. William Y. Atkinson, wife of the Governor of Georgia.
In 1860 Milton County with a population of 3,985 was in the Ninth Congressional District, the Fifty-first Senatorial District, and the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit. Agriculture was the main industry and cotton the main crop. Several farmers developed well-known varieties of cotton abundantly. Cotton was ginned locally and sold at premium prices to the Roswell Manufacturing Company for their textile mills.
Some have said that during the Civil War (1860-65), Union Troops never came closer than the county’s southern border of Roswell, but there are substantial accounts of Confederate Military Records from the Bell Research Center in Cumming, Georgia that read, “Captured, Milton County, Georgia” that indicates there was Union Troop activity in Milton County during the Civil War. These four hometown boys of Company C of the 42nd, Georgia (Milton Tigers) were all captured in Milton County. Presumably they were recuperating at home, or trying to get home at the time of their capture as these dates are in the general timeframe of the Battle of Atlanta. They are CPL John W. Jones (Arm amputated Feb 25th, 1864 after battle at Rocky Face Ridge, Captured in Milton County July 21st, 1864); Pvt William Riley Morris (Captured in Milton County July 27th, 1864), Pvt Harvey A Rainey (July 18th, 1864), Joseph Mackin Thomason (July 21, 1864) and there are many, many others listed.
In early 1900 Milton County had quite a few country crossroads stores and post offices besides Alpharetta: Arnold, Coker, Dinsmore, Field's Cross Roads, Freemansville, McClure, Mazeppa, Ocee, Skelton, Stono, and Warsaw. Eventually in-town shops, stores, cotton gins, warehouses, and a few service facilities were established in the county seat. In much later years a hotel, banks, and automobile dealerships opened. The Alpharetta Free Press became a widely known and respected newspaper.
Milton County totaled about 147 square miles or 94,080 acres. There was a population of 6,763, which was 555 more than at the previous 1890 census. Alpharetta had 310 residents, 1,529 lived in and around the town. Methodists and Baptists remained the dominant religious denominations.
Back then the farmland north of the river was sparsely populated. The farmers in Milton County paid little tax and received little in services.
Most people have always heard that Milton County was a poor county and about to go into bankruptcy, but the records show that was not the case. Grand Jury Presentments for the March Term 1927 stated that Milton County was out of debt. Grand Jury Presentments for the March Term 1930 stated "we deem it to be in the best interest of our County that we merge with Fulton County as there is a mutual interest of both counties." Treasurer's Report for that Term showed a balance of $14,615.28.
Because the Roswell area was formerly located in Cobb County, there was no border between Fulton and Milton counties before 1932. Following the 1932 agreement between Milton County & Fulton County, the Cobb County town of Roswell was ceded to Fulton four months later on May 9, 1932. The cession of Roswell (including everything east of Willeo Creek) made the new county more contiguous, though a very narrow strip (what is now the Dunwoody Panhandle of Sandy Springs, originally ceded to Milton County from DeKalb County which already narrowly connected the two sections). Therefore, in 1932 Milton County, along with the city of Roswell (which was never a part of Milton County), became part of Fulton County.
At that time, Campbell County, which had actually already gone bankrupt, was ceded to Fulton, giving it its almost 70-mile long irregular shape along the Chattahoochee River.
Fulton County now has 10+ percent of the state's population, being larger than eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The Fulton County school district is the only non-contiguous school district in the state, having about a 17-mile separation with the Atlanta Public School System between north and south Fulton School System.
Times have changed and today North Fulton is one of the most rapidly developing and prosperous areas in the US where extremely high taxes are paid. Only one thing remains the same; Milton County receives little in county services as they did in 1932. As of a few years ago, approximately every dollar paid by North Fulton County residents outside of the Atlanta city limits returns only about 68 cents in local services. As viewed, many North Fulton residents view Old Milton County as a “cash cow” for the rest of Fulton County.
A February 2009 study completed in collaboration between the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government and Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies gave a positive analysis of the financial viability of the proposed reinstatement of Milton County.
The proposed reinstatement plan would include some of Georgia's largest cities in a new Milton County, such as Roswell (7th), Sandy Springs (8th), Johns Creek (12th), Alpharetta (13th), Milton (54th), as well as Mountain Park.
Historical Reading: Walter G. Cooper, Official History of Fulton County (1934; reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1978). Caroline Matheny Dillman, Days Gone By in Alpharetta and Roswell, Georgia, vol. 1 (Roswell, Ga.: Chattahoochee Press, 1992). Darlene M. Walsh, ed., Roswell: A Pictorial History, 2d ed. (Roswell, Ga.: Roswell Historical Society, 1994). Connie Mashburn, Alpharetta, Milton County – The Early Years, 2008. Michael T. McAlpin, Bell Research Center, Cumming, Georgia, 2011.