Rock Eagle 4-H Center is located north of Eatonton, Georgia, adjacent to the Oconee National Forest. With nearly 1,500 acres of forested land, including a 110 acre lake, Rock Eagle is a natural meeting site away from everyday life.
Opened in 1955, Rock Eagle is the largest of five centers operated by the University of Georgia as support for the state's 4-H Program. Thousands of young people annually participate in the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education Program, as well as the Summer Camping Program; made available through Georgia's County Extension Offices.
Many 4-H'ers from around the state attend competitive events, leadership conferences and rallies at Rock Eagle. Civic, religious and business groups utilize Rock Eagle 4-H Center for their conferences and meetings as well.
Shaped like a prone bird, the Rock Eagle Mound is a stone effigy. Measuring eight feet high at the breast and consisting entirely of milky quartz rocks, it was probably built about 2,000 years ago by Native Americans. Many believe it was built for religious or ceremonial purposes.
Archaeologists associate the mound with the Middle Woodland Period (100-300 A.D.). Some scientists have suggested a possible relationship between the builders of Rock Eagle and the Hopewell Culture, mound builders active in the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys from 200 B.C. - 500 A.D.
In 1978, the U.S. Department of the Interior listed the mound on the National Register of Historic Places. The only other recognized stone effigy mound east of the Mississippi River is Rock Hawk, also located in Putnam County near Lake Oconee.
During the 1940's the Georgia 4-H Program operated two 4-H facilities. The oldest of the facilities is Wahsega 4-H Center just north of Dahlonega, which began operation in the 1930's. In 1947, Georgia 4-H'ers began camping at Tybee Island 4-H Center near Savannah. During this time, Bill Sutton served as State 4-H Leader, overseeing one of the most rapid growth periods of 4-H membership in the state of Georgia. Mr. Sutton dreamed of building a 4-H center where 1,000 boys and girls could attend camp at one time. On November 17, 1948, Mr. Sutton and other 4-H supporters and employees of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service chartered the Georgia 4-H Foundation. The Foundation was created to raise and administer funding for the construction of Rock Eagle.
Location of the 4-H center was selected in 1950 when John A. (Red) Smith, County Extension Agent in Putnam County, suggested that the center be built near the Rock Eagle Effigy Mound in the northern end of Putnam County. Mr. Sutton, with the aid of the Foundation Board of Directors, secured matching state funds from Governor Herman Talmadge. Mr. Talmadge agreed that for every private dollar the 4-H Foundation raised he would match it with one state dollar, in addition to providing skilled prison labor to construct the facility. In June of 1952, 4-H'ers attended ground breaking activities at the new 4-H Center site.
Construction was started and the prisoners lived on the 4-H Center in a prison facility built on site. The building now serves as the Administration Office for the fiscal operations of the center and provides office space for the 4-H Summer Camping Program, 4-H Environmental Education, and 4-H Technology staff. On October 31, 1954, the 4-H Center was dedicated. Later, in 1955, the center was opened for operation.
Rock Eagle 4-H Center has served millions of people from throughout the United States and all over the world. During the dedication of the 4-H Center, E.W. Aiton, National 4-H Club Leader said, "The Center's timbered hills will now grow a crop even greater than cotton or livestock which once covered the area. It will be used to develop the boys and girls who make the Nation's leaders."
The following chapters are excerpts from a larger report titled: “Archeological and Historical Investigations for the Proposed Rock Hawk Trail Corridor Adjoining Lawrence Shoals Park and Little Rock Eagle Mound in Putnam County, Georgia” written by Jerald Ledbetter