Alpharetta was incorporated on December 11, 1858.The town was created to become the county seat of the newly formed Milton County. The territory comprising Milton County had once been a part of the Cherokee Nation and beginning in 1831 this area became the southern portion of Cherokee County, one of the largest counties in the state. Cherokee County’s size created a hardship for some its southern residents who had to travel to Canton, Cherokee County’s seat, to conduct county business, a trip that could take up to four days for the round trip. To accommodate those residents, parts of Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties were combined to create Milton County.
On April 12, 1858, the Milton County Inferior Court ordered the purchase of 60 acres from the Manning and Camp families. Twelve and one-half acres were retained for county use and the remaining forty seven and one-half acres were divided into lots and sold to the highest bidders. These lots were used to establish the downtown business district and residences for settlers who were drawn into the new town for commercial or other reasons. Before the year was over construction had started on a new courthouse and jail. The 1860 Federal Census for Alpharetta listed six carpenters, three blacksmiths, two brick masons, two shoemakers, two tailors, two grocers, two hoteliers, two livery stable employees, one ditcher, one doctor, one postmaster, one sheriff, and one constable.
The new government had barely three years to become established when the Civil War began.
Milton County sent two representatives to the secession convention in Milledgeville, then the Georgia state capitol. These two men, Jackson Graham and J. C. Street voted against secession but they were in the minority. Soon, five infantry companies were raised locally and soldiers were sent into battle. These troops fought in some of the war’s most deadly engagements including Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Atlanta. Milton County troops suffered 244 casualties
In March 1865 the Superior Court reported a cash balance of minus $7.50 in the county treasury. Since there were no funds for education, Milton officials emphasized the importance of Sunday Schools in educating children. By 1871, the Alpharetta Male and Female Academy had opened in a new building located behind the current city hall. The school operated until the end of 1921 when Milton School opened on the property where the Fulton County Board of Education Milton Center is now located. During the 1890s, primary schools, funded by local citizens, opened in communities throughout the county, Ocee, Warsaw, Hopewell, Crabapple and Summit among them. Junior high schools were built in Birmingham and Newtown.
Alpharetta’s economy was cotton based for decades. Farmers grew cotton and downtown businesses opened to seed, fertilize, process, sell and ship the product. In 1901, the Webb Guano Warehouse opened for business in the landmark Cotton House building on Milton Avenue. At various times three gins operated in Alpharetta, two in Crabapple, one in Webb and Ocee.
Most, if not all of the existing downtown commercial buildings, particularly those on the west side of South Main Street and on the west side of Old Roswell Street, were built between 1902 and 1914. During this period the cotton business flourished as did the downtown businesses. But in the 1920s and 1930s the cotton market was destroyed by the boll weevil and the Great Depression. The price of cotton fell from 35 cents per pound in 1919 to 6 cents per pound in 1931. The two banks closed, cotton brokers could no longer offer seed and fertilizer to farmers on credit, and the farmers barely survived.
By then Milton County was near bankruptcy. Teachers were forced to take pay cuts, and even then were not paid on time. Roads were in deplorable condition. County employees were underpaid. One local resident, the late Louie Jones, described the situation this way, “Schools during the Depression were nothing but shacks in the fields and not an inch of paved roads to get to them.” So in 1931, Milton County residents voted to become a part of Fulton County, its rich neighbor to the south. The vote was 213 for the move and 59 against. The change took place on January 1, 1932. Soon, a cafeteria, central heat and plumbing were installed at Milton School. Alpharetta’s main street was paved, school bus service was instituted, and pay for county employees was doubled.
Farmers shifted to livestock and truck farming in the 1930s and 1940s. The demand for food by U. S. troops during World War II led to the growth of the poultry business in much of North Georgia, including the Alpharetta area. The poultry industry provided local residents with a stable source of income for many years even long after the war ended. Two other developments provided jobs for Alpharettans. The Bell Bomber Plant, now Lockheed Martin, opened in Marietta in1943, and the General Motors Assembly Plant in Doraville began operations in 1947.