There were Native Americans present in this area when the first permanent European settlements were made. There are records of early surveyors encountoring native groups of hunters and visiting tribes and villages around 1819.
The Timucua, Hitchiti, Seminole and Creek people were all noted to have lived in this area. It is also noted that different tribes lived here at different periods because many societies were migrant, compounded by the fact that the soil here may have been considered poor for cultivation. The Timucua had settled in the area between the Acilla River and the Okefenokee swamp by the sixteenth century.
These tribes were encountered by the Spanish when a mission was sent to this area from St. Augustine. The Spanish established a series of missions from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Listed in 1655 is a Timucuan mission, Santa Maria de los Angeles de Arapajo. This was most likely along the Alapaha River. Additionally, the Spanish and British fought over the allegiance of the Native Americans. The Spanish wanted to convert them to Christianity while the British wanted to trade skins and cook pots.
Lowndes County was formed in 1825 from a southern portion of Irwin County. The earliest known settler in Lowndes built a dwelling and store along Coffee Road to provide a trading location to other inhabitants. Coffee Road was the first main thoroughfare to South Georgia. It was comissioned in 1822 with General John Coffee and militiamen cutting road from from Jacksonville in Telfair County, GA, to Duncansville in Thomas County. It has been written that some also came via the waterways. Lowndes County had once been much larger than it,currently is; its borders contained areas which are now Brooks, Clinch, Berrien, Echols, Cook, and Lanier Counties. The name Lowndes comes from a politician named William Jones Lowndes. A congressman from South Carolina, Lowndes never actually spent time in this area. There are also Lowndes Counties in Alabama and Mississippi. Originally much larger than it is today, Lowndes was gradually downsized through the mid-1800s to the size that it is today with many nearby counties taking the land previously in Lowndes.
The first recorded population in Lowndes County shows up in the 1830 census and, which indicated a population of 2,453 persons. The early settlers usually constructed wooden dwellings, often connecting two structures with a “dogtrot” which was an open passageway between two sqaure rooms. Many settlers found clay on their land and fashioned bricks to be used for chimneys and foundations. They would often construct a kitchen in a separate building from the rest of the home because, due to the use of wood-burning stoves, the kitchen was the most likely source of any fire and having it separated would protect the rest of the dwelling. Early Lowndes settlers used a great deal of land for farming. The area was sparsely populated and land was easy to acquire.
The first county seat of Lowndes, Franklinville, was very small and, according to Jane T. Shelton’s Pines and Pioneers, never blossomed into a thriving business location. In 1833, a new county seat, Lowndesville, was established but suffered a similar fate as Franklinville. The county seat had to be changed once again. Troupville was formed in near the junction of the Withlacoochee and Litte rivers. The name was chosen to recognize Georgia governor George M. Troup. Troupville became well-established and grew in population. Although the town succeeded where previous county seats did not, the Atlantic Coastline railroad, the first through the area, failed to stop at Troupville, selecting a site four miles away. Because of this, a new town had to be formed on the railroad. This town became Valdosta.
The name “Valdosta,” like Troupville, pays homage to Governor Troup. The name comes from one of Troup’s plantations, which in turn was named for the Valle d’Aosta province in northern Italy. It has often been incorrectly interpreted as meaning “Vale of Beauty” in Italian but this is not true. Valdosta was incorporated on December 7, 1860, and began growing rapidly. Although an 1876 directory only lists 31 businesses in Valdosta (Thomasville is listed with over 100), the town grew rapidly. The Georgia Southern and Florida Rail Road arrived in 1889, and the importance of this line is highlighted in the fact that all municipal Lowndes governments are on this line: Hahira, Remerton, Valdosta, Dasher and Lake Park. Other achievements were made through the late 1800s. Valdosta became the 2nd place in the world to bottle Coca-Cola and new city hall was constructed in 1894. In 1899, local investors open the Strickland Cotton Mill on the Georgia Southern and Florida in Remerton. The Atlantic, Valdosta and Western railroad, connecting Valdosta and Jacksonville, was finished the same year.
The population began increasing rapidly. The 1890 census shows a population of 2,854, the 1900 shows 5,613 and the 1910 shows 7,656. In a mere 20 years, the population nearly tripled. This can largely be attributed to the railroads bringing in commerce, trade, jobs, and subsequently population. Many of early Valdosta’s major industries, such as cotton, lumber, and turpentine depended greatly on the railroad to ship product and supplies.
Another major contributor to Valdosta’s continuous growth is the establishment of a college here. In 1906, the college that would eventually become Valdosta State University was chartered.
Source: Pines and Pioneers by Jane T. Shelton