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Athens, GA, is a city in Clarke County but in terms of government structure, Athens is a unified city-county. In 1991, voters approved a change in the original city charter in order to form a unified government with Clarke County, and the voters decided that the new entity’s name would be Athens-Clarke County. According to the U.S. Census of 2000, the population of Athens-Clarke County was 100,266 and its total land area is 118.2 square miles.

The history of Athens-Clarke County dates back to January 27, 1785, when the Georgia State General Assembly granted a charter for the University of Georgia in order to create a public institution of higher learning. In 1801, one of the trustees for the University of Georgia named John Milledge purchased 633 acres of land and donated it to the University so that the first University buildings could be constructed. John Milledge named the area Athens after Athens, Greece, because he wanted to inspire an academy worthy of Plato and Aristotle in North Georgia. Athens was incorporated as a town in 1806, the Athens Police Department was created in 1881, and the Athens public school system began operating in 1886.

The University of Georgia at Athens is the oldest and largest institution of higher learning in Georgia. It is also the oldest public university in the United States. With a total enrollment of 34,180 students in 2008, the University of Georgia offers a full range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and it also has one of the top ranking journalism schools in the United States.
Georgia Bulldog Bobblehead
Because of the large number of students who come to Athens to study at the University, Athens is a college town with a creative music and art scene, many restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and a bicycle culture. There are bicycle events in Athens almost every weekend and during the springtime, a conglomeration of bicycle races is known collectively as the Twilight Series.

Real estate in Athens

Athens is considered to be one of the most desirable places to live in North Georgia because of its close proximity to Atlanta, the intellectual ambiance of the University of Georgia, convenient access to state of the art hospitals, and the excellent public school system. In 2007, the median home value in Athens-Clarke County was $160,300, having appreciated from $103,000 in 2000. The cost of living index in Athens is relatively low at 86.6 and the population density is 958 people per square mile.

The residential real estate market in Athens consists of a blend of traditional single family homes, newer condominiums and townhouses. Some of the older homes in Athens are historic Southern style mansions on estate sized properties. Single family detached homes range in price from the low $100,000’s to $500,000 and prices increase for custom built homes on golf courses. Newer homes with swimming pools are available in subdivisions such as Sterling Woods, Carrington Plantation and Welbrook Farms. There are also a large number of rental units in Athens because of the transient college student population. Apartment rentals range in price from $400 to $600/month for one bedroom apartments, $500 to $800/month for 2-bedroom apartments, and up to $1,500/month for 4-bedroom apartments.

Lodging, shopping, dining and entertainment

There are 15 hotels in Athens including the Courtyard by Marriott, Best Western Colonial Inn, Comfort Inn Athens, Days Inn, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Microtel Athens. Bed and breakfast inns include the Ashford Manor Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian mansion with 6 guest rooms situated on 5 acres of landscaped gardens; the Magnolia Terrace Guest House, a Colonial Revival mansion with 8 elegantly appointed guest rooms; and the Foundry Park Inn and Spa, which has 119 luxuriously decorated guest rooms with feather beds.

Athens contains many supermarkets and shopping centers, antique stores, and art stores featuring a colorful array of Appalachian folk art from well known painters, potters and sculptors. A diversity of dining experiences is available in Athens including Southern style barbecue, steak and seafood combinations, Chinese and Japanese cuisines, or Italian and Mexican foods. Dining out is such a popular activity that during the month of February, Athens sponsors A Taste of Athens food festival featuring food sampling from over 50 local restaurants.

Hiking is a popular activity in Athens and Memorial Park contains 90 acres of undeveloped land with many walking trails, bicycle trails, a children’s playground and a zoo. The North Oconee River Greenway and Heritage Trail also contains 13 miles of trails for joggers, walkers and bikers. More than 4 miles of nature trails are available to the public at the Sandy Creek Nature Center, a 225 acre wildlife sanctuary in Athens that includes natural habitats for a wide variety of plant and animal species from North Georgia.

Residents of Athens are fortunate to be able to enjoy excellent theater productions throughout the year at the Classic Center, a 2,050 seat performing arts center that is also home to the Athens Symphony. Art lovers can enjoy more than 8,000 paintings, sculptures and other works of art at the Georgia Museum of Art, which is located in the University of Georgia’s Visual Arts Complex. The Georgia Museum of Art also features traveling art exhibitions from all over the world. Another art center in Athens is the Lyndon House Arts Center. Located in the 1850’s Ware-Lyndon House that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lyndon House Arts Center hosts art exhibitions and offers art classes for children in the children’s wing.

During three days at the end of June, Athens sponsors a festival called AthFest that showcases fine arts and crafts from more than 50 artists who exhibit their works at the Artist Market in downtown Athens. At the end of September, the North Georgia Folk Festival celebrates traditional Appalachian bluegrass music in Sandy Creek Park. More than a dozen live music acts perform at the North Georgia Folk Festival, which also features displays of traditional Appalachian arts and crafts.