Montezuma, Georgia's rich past began with the arrival of the railroad in the town across the Flint River, Oglethorpe, with plans to extend the line through what is now Montezuma. When commercial and residential property owners in the small community of Traveler's Rest saw that the railroad was to by-pass them in 1851, they moved themselves and their buildings to what was "a low swamp in the midst of a dense thicket of woods, whose solitudes were broken only by the clutter of wild game and by an occasional shot from some hunter's rifle".
Railroads and steamboat trade allowed for the town to grow into a bustling center of economic activity. Hotels, livery stables, cotton seed processing plants, agricultural industries, schools and churches defined the town's character of rural simplicity and contentment. Much of the activity from the past is reflected in historical downtown.
The Flint River did and continues to provide the area with vast natural resources and recreational opportunities as it flows to the west of town into nearby Lake Blackshear. However, the Flint also humbled the town with the fury of its power. Historically, Montezuma's central business district had experienced flooding in 1902, 1929, and 1948. Although a 29 foot levee had been constructed in 1956, nothing could prepare the town for the events of July 6, 1994, when 20" of rain fell in 24 hours.
The downtown was first flooded with six feet of water by the shallow, seemingly harmless Beaver Creek which was raised to flood level by breaking dams and overwhelmed farm ponds. Even if Beaver Creek had not flooded, merchants and others were evacuating town as reports came in that the Flint was soon to crest at a previously unheard of 30 feet. In fact it crested at around 35 feet flowing from the west through the river valley filling the town with reddish-brown water for six days. When the water receded, the first estimates of damage were $10 million and Montezuma's merchants faced a heartbreaking view of ruined inventory and mud-soaked interiors.
Because of the Great Flood of 1994, Montezuma has been dubbed, "The Town that Refused to Drown". Because of the tenacity and spirit of the people and countless volunteers, the downtown was returned to her old self again and is in the process of becoming even better!
Please visit Montezuma to experience "Preservation in Progress" as we restore the historic building facades to reveal their original architectural beauty. New parks, brick-lined sidewalks, and street lamps will complement our vision of revitalization through historic preservation. This project is being funded by a grant through the Georgia Historic Preservation Division to stabilize historic properties damaged in the 1994 flood.