Clayton County, located just south of Atlanta, is one of the smallest counties in the state, with an area of only 143 square miles. On November 30, 1858, the state legislature created Clayton County from parts of Fayette and Henry counties, making it the 125th county in the state. Clayton County is named for Augustin Smith Clayton, a Virginia native who moved with his family to Georgia as a child. He attended the University of Georgia and graduated in 1804. Clayton helped compile the law statutes of Georgia, served three terms as a judge of the Western Circuit, was a member of the Electoral College, and served in the U.S. Congress from 1831 to 1835.
After the Revolutionary War (1775-83) many veterans were given land bounties in Georgia. In the Treaty of Indian Springs (1821), the Creeks ceded their land to the state, and settlers from other parts of Georgia and southern coastal states moved into the area.
Jonesboro, the county seat, was originally called Leaksville but was renamed in 1845 after Colonel Samuel Goode Jones, a civil engineer with the Macon and Western Railroad Company, who also laid out the street plan for the city. Railroads played a tremendous role in improving Georgia's development in the 1830s and 1840s. Under the leadership of Governor Wilson Lumpkin, the "father of Georgia's intricate rail system," in 1846 a railroad connected Jonesboro with stops in Morrow Station (later Morrow), Quick Station (later Forest Park), and Rough and Ready (later Mountain View).
One of the most historic moments of the Civil War (1861-65) for Clayton County was the Battle of Jonesboro, which began on August 31, 1864. This was the climax of the Atlanta campaign. Union troops seized control of the railroad, and all supplies to the Atlanta home front were cut off. Many of the Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Jonesboro are buried in the Patrick R. Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.
The twentieth century brought growth in transportation and higher education. Clayton County is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest passenger airport and the state's largest employer center, with a workforce of more than 56,000. It also has a commuter bus service known as C-Tran. Clayton State University, founded in 1969 as Clayton Junior College, is located in the city of Morrow. Spivey Hall, one of the Southeast's premier recital halls, is on the Clayton State campus. In addition, the Georgia Archives moved to Morrow from downtown Atlanta in the spring of 2003. One area that remains as a quiet and undisturbed haven for wildlife is the 146-acre Reynolds Nature Preserve.
The Battle of Jonesboro is reenacted annually during the Fall Festival. Two plantation houses, Stately Oaks and Ashley Oaks, are available for tours and hold special holiday events. Clayton County is also the site of the Road to Tara Museum, which houses the world's largest permanent Gone With the Wind exhibition. Jonesboro's survival from the devastation of the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction provided much of the background for Margaret Mitchell's novel.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Clayton County is 259,424, an increase from the 2000 population of 236,517. In addition to Jonesboro and Morrow, other incorporated cities in the county are Forest Park, Lake City, Lovejoy, and Riverdale.
During the 1996 Olympic Games, Jonesboro hosted the beach volleyball competition at Atlanta Beach in Clayton County International Park. The Clayton County Water Authority also attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see the county's natural land application process for the treatment of wastewater. The system purifies the wastewater and, at the same time, fertilizes the land; it also produces palletized fertilizer for the marketplace.