Rockdale County in north central Georgia was created from parts of Henry and Newton counties in 1870. Its name was inspired by the granite strata underlying the surface soil in the area, which was originally inhabited by mound dwellers, and then by Creek and Cherokee Indians. The first white settlers arrived in Rockdale County during the 1820s.
The only incorporated community in the 131-square-mile county is Conyers, the county seat, although two other communities, Magnet and Milstead, are included on current maps. The county courthouse was built in 1939.
Conyers was incorporated in 1854 but had been inhabited for several decades before that under the name Rockdale. In the 1840s W. D. Conyers, a Covington banker, helped the Georgia Railway lay track through town by buying the site from a blacksmith, John Holcombe, and deeding it to the railroad.
During the heyday of textile manufacturing in the South, Rockdale County was a prosperous place with several mill towns. The decline of those mills signaled the drastic reduction—often the disappearance—of the communities surrounding them. However, the construction of Interstate 20 in the 1960s enabled the county to grow and thrive once more. Today the county is a bedroom community for many who are employed in the metropolitan Atlanta area, and the historic district, "Olde Town Conyers," draws visitors to shop in its boutiques and visit its museums and gardens.
Rockdale County has several sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including two districts in Conyers that incorporate numerous individually historic buildings. Among the others are Panola Mountain, a 100-acre granite mountain in a state park, added to the register in 1976, and the Rockdale County Jail in Conyers, added in 1982 and now a museum.
Other places of interest in the county include Randy Poynter Lake at Black Shoals Park, a 650-acre reservoir and water sports recreation area stocked with many sportfish varieties; the Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, part of the revitalized downtown in Conyers; and the Haralson Mill Covered Bridge, completed in 1997 and the first of its kind to be built in the state since the 1890s.
Perhaps the most well-known place in Rockdale County is the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery founded in 1944 on a 1,400-acre plantation once owned by the actress Colleen Moore. The monastery supports itself by selling religious books, art, and other products, and its store is open to the public. One of the newest attractions in the county is the Georgia International Horse Park, developed for the 1996 Olympics equestrian events and mountain bike competition. Its 1,400 acres now host a wide range of events, from horse shows to wedding receptions.
Notable residents include the actress Holly Hunter, who grew up on her father's farm in Conyers, and E. R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize –winning journalist.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, Rockdale County's population was 85,215, an increase from the 2000 population of 70,111.