Milton County, where cotton was king for most of its seventy-five years of existence, was one of only two Georgia counties in modern times to be abolished (the other was Campbell County, south of Atlanta). Milton was known for its rich farming land, and residents were known for experimentation with and development of fine-quality cotton with high yields. Its county seat, Alpharetta, was the hub of city and county activities and events. Located twenty-five miles north of Atlanta, on the south Milton County bordered the town of Roswell, just two miles from the Chattahoochee River, and it was surrounded by Cherokee, Cobb, and Forsyth counties. Its early trails and later roads served as major thoroughfares from counties and towns in the north Georgia mountains to Atlanta markets and those along the way.
The area of Georgia designated as Milton County was originally part of the Cherokee Nation, and Cherokees and early white settlers lived together in relative harmony for a number of years. The state took over the Cherokee lands in 1830, carved them into ten separate counties, distributed them to whites in the 1832 land lottery, and then expelled the remaining native Americans to present-day Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39.
The need for a more accessible county seat led to the creation of Milton County on December 18, 1857, from parts of Cherokee, Forsyth, and Cobb counties. In 1859 small portions of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties were added, with the land from DeKalb transferred to Fulton County in 1929. Milton County was named for John Milton, Georgia's first secretary of state, who was elected three times. A lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War (1775-83), he is credited with saving and preserving the state's official records during the British occupation.
Evolving from a Methodist settlement of tents and other temporary housing called New Prospect Campground, the city of Alpharetta was incorporated in 1858 and designated the county seat. The Civil War (1861-65) began less than three years later. Union troops never came closer than the county's Roswell border.
Milton County, with a population of 3,985 in 1860, was in the Ninth Congressional District, the Fifty-first Senatorial District, and the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit. Agriculture was the main industry and cotton the main crop. Several farmers developed well-known varieties of cotton with prolific yields. Cotton was ginned locally and sold at premium prices to the Roswell Manufacturing Company to be processed in its textile mills.
Early on Milton County could boast country crossroads stores and post offices; eventually in-town shops, stores, cotton gins and warehouses, and service facilities were established; and in later years a hotel, banks, and automobile dealerships opened. The Alpharetta Free Press was a widely known and respected newspaper. Many communities dotted the countryside, and some of these—for example, Birmingham, Crabapple, Hopewell, Newtown, Ocee, and Warsaw—remain identifiable today.
Because the county had virtually a one-industry economy supplemented with other agricultural dependencies, the weather could play havoc with income and assets. Eventually, boll weevil infestations of the 1910s and 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s left Milton County destitute, with almost no paved roads, dilapidated one- and two-room schools, a dearth of health accommodations, and high taxes.
Milton County, with a population of 6,730 in 1930, merged with Fulton County on January 1, 1932, through an act of the state legislature. The annexation meant lower taxes, an improved economy, the advantages of the Fulton County school system, and county medical offerings for the residents of the former county.
In May 1932 the Roswell Militia District, including the city of Roswell, seceded from Cobb County and also merged with Fulton County. Thus was born what is known unofficially and variously defined today as north Fulton County.