Blakely, the seat of Early County and nicknamed the "Peanut Capital of the World," is located in southwest Georgia just east of the Alabama state line and fifty-two miles southwest of Albany. Satellite campuses of Bainbridge State College and Albany Technical College serve the area.
The city of Blakely, incorporated in 1870, was named after Captain Johnston Blakeley (1781-1814). Born in Ireland, Blakeley immigrated to the United States in 1783. During the War of 1812 (1812-15) he commanded two vessels, the Enterprise and the Wasp. In October 1814, a little more than three months after capturing the British ship Reindeer, an act that earned him a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, Blakeley and the crew of the Wasp disappeared at sea.
Although it was incorporated much later, Blakely was established in 1825. Blakely is now known for its production of peanuts, but cotton was the predominant industry before the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-65). After the war the timber industry, particularly the harvesting of hardwoods, emerged as an equally important economic activity.
With slow but steady growth after the Civil War, both Early County and the city of Blakely expanded and improved their infrastructures. The current courthouse was built in 1905 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The population of Blakely has slowly increased from 3,234 inhabitants in 1950 to 5,696 in 2000. Early County as a whole, however, has been losing population during the same period, declining from 17,413 in 1950 to 12,354 in 2000.
Blakely, like other cities of its size in the poverty-stricken corner of southwest Georgia, faces difficult social and economic conditions. The rate of growth from 1990 to 2000 was 1.8 percent, while the state of Georgia grew at a rate of 26.4 percent. Thirty-four percent of the populace, more than three times the state average, live in poverty, as do half of all children (age eighteen and under) and nearly a quarter of the elderly. Thirty-six percent of the population did not graduate from high school, and only 12 percent of the population holds a bachelor's degree or higher.
Such daunting statistics aside, the area has significant natural and historical attractions. Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park in Blakely is one of the largest mound complexes in the state. The last wooden Confederate flagpole in Georgia, erected by Confederate troops in 1861, still stands in Blakely. The Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge, located nine miles from Blakely, is the southernmost covered bridge in the United States. Built in 1891, the bridge measures ninety-six feet long and two spans wide. Blakely is also closely situated to the Chattahoochee River and is positioned approximately halfway between Lake Seminole and Lake Walter F. George.
Early County produces more peanuts than any other county in the nation, thus earning Blakely the nickname "Peanut Capital of the World." Although more acres in Early County are planted in cotton, peanuts account for millions of dollars more in income and thus remain the most important cash crop in the county. A peanut monument is located in Blakely's courthouse square.
In January 2009 a salmonella outbreak, which caused illness in more than 500 people and made national headlines, was traced to the Peanut Corporation of America's peanut-processing plant in Blakely.