Winterville began as a railroad town, or a wood and water station for the Georgia Railroad, which used to pass through town. Our town was incorporated in 1904, and in 1906, the Oglethorpe County portion of town was transferred to Clarke County. A few years ago, the train tracks were removed when the train stopped coming through Winterville. But we have our historic train depot to remind us of an earlier time when trains were the way to travel or move goods from one place to another. The depot serves as a community center and can be rented.
Today, Winterville offers small town living at its best just a short six mile drive from the University of Georgia and employment opportunities in the metropolitan area of Athens-Clarke County.
Our town has a long and rich history. Land grants in the late 1700s brought settlers to what is now the Winterville area. With the building of Georgia’s first railroad, housing began to cluster around Six-Mile-Station, a wood-and-water stop six miles east of Athens, on the Oglethorpe-Clarke County line in the 1840s. The railroad attracted three brothers, surnamed Winter, from Germany. Soon after, the rail stop became known as Winter’s Station, and in 1866, the Oglethorpe Post Office was designated as Winterville.
In 1904, the city of Winterville was incorporated, and in 1906, the Oglethorpe County portion of the town was transferred to Clarke County. Today, Winterville retains its charter and is still a municipality, the only one entirely located within the city/county of the unified Athens-Clarke County.
For many years our town was a trading center for farmers in the surrounding areas. At its peak as a trading center, Winterville had a bank, two cotton gins, several general merchandise stores, where almost any type of merchandise was available, and a fertilizer plant.
With the advent of good roads and fast transportation, the town became less and less important as a trading center. Most of the business concerns moved to Athens, or to other smaller towns located on the Seaboard Railroad which passes a few miles to the north of Winterville.
Many of Winterville’s Victorian homes were built in the 1870s and 1880s. The 1920s was another peak time of economic activity in Winterville. Newspaper accounts at that time list five general stores, a drug store, a bank, two garages, two cotton gins, two grist mills, and 510 residents.
In the past, Winterville was home to some of the best schools in the area. A championship basketball team at the high school and many other school activities served as a focal point and a boost for community spirit. However, in 1956, after the high school was consolidated with the City of Athens school system, community spirit plummeted. Today, several buildings from the old campus are still standing, including the auditorium.
In 1970, the idea of an annual festival in Winterville was conceived by citizens, including Wesley Whitehead, Joan Biles, and Sybil Deacon, as a means of revitalizing community spirit and reversing the decay prevalent in the city buildings such as the historic train depot. The marigold was adopted as the town’s official symbol in 1971. It was chosen because of its hardiness, versatility, and vigor, and because it is a symbol of friendship all over the world.
The Marigold Festival was held from 1971 through 2002 and returned in 2009. Funds from Marigold Festivals are used to beautify and improve the community. Past festivals funded renovations of several buildings, including the depot, furnished the building for the Winterville branch of the Athens Regional Library, built a playscape in the park, plus many other projects.