Athens, Georgia, has long lived up to the expectations of its namesake, acting not only as the cultural epicenter of the region, but leading the way for the state, the country, and the world!
- Georgia’s First PilotBen Epps, Georgia’s first pilot and father of the youngest pilot in the world to fly solo (Ben Jr.)Ben T. Epps managed to make history before he made it to his twentieth birthday. In 1907, at age nineteen, the Athenian had not only built his first airplane—an ingenious compendium of spare parts and bicycle wheels—he had sent it into flight, reaching an impressive fifty feet in altitude for a 100-yard stretch, securing his place in history as Georgia’s first pilot. The city’s airport, Athens-Ben Epps Airport, is named in his honor. Whether through genetics or the contagious nature of enthusiasm, Ben’s son, Ben Epps, Jr., became the youngest pilot ever to fly solo at 13.
- The South’s First Services for Freemen The Freedmen’s Bureau was the first federally-run program established solely for the purpose of social welfareAt the end of the Civil War, Athens was chosen as one of a handful of Southern cities to pioneer a new program, The Freedmen’s Bureau, the first federally-run program established solely for the purpose of social welfare. Designed to help former slaves navigate the South during Reconstruction, the Bureau worked with freedmen to help them to learn to read and write, acted as their legal advocates in the courts, and sought to reunite them with family members with whom they’d become separated during the war.
- America’s First State-Supported University In 1784, Georgia became the first state to charter a state-supported universityIn the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Georgia general assembly broke new ground, granting the charter for the first state-supported university in America. Within a few years, the University of Georgia began to take shape, growing from a cluster of log buildings overlooking the Oconee River to the nucleus of the richly cultured city that grew around it, and ensuring that the city of Athens would live up to the high-brow promise of its namesake.
- The World’s First Autonomous Oak Though the original “Tree That Owns Itself” fell in 1942, a new tree was propagated from one of its acorns and planted in its placeThere is surely no shortage of quirky requests to come from Southern wills, but one from Athens may take the cake. Legend has it that one Colonel William Henry Jackson was so fondly moved by memories of a particular tree from his childhood that he felt inspired to leave it in his will . . . to itself. According to the document, the Colonel felt compelled to “convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides,” making the tree the first to own itself.