Originally named Cooper, the change to Nicholson was noted as early as 1876 when The Forest News described the stations on the Northeastern Railroad’s Athens to Lula run. The name Cooper was in honor of the Willis Cooper farm just below Nicholson. The people of Cooper, desiring a railroad depot (part of which is still available to be seen in what was Hazel Barnett’s yard on Sanford Dr.) informed President J. Nicholson “that they would name the town after him if he would make a fuel stop in Cooper so they could sell their wood to the railroad.” The fuel stop was created and the name change occurred and was reported in local papers as early as 1876, however, the post office at Cooper did not change its name to Nicholson until February 2, 1882.
The town has predominantly been a farming community through the years; moreover, the poultry industry was and continues to be an essential part of the local economy. Other commercial endeavors such as general stores, a mattress factory, jewelry store, hat factory, cotton gins just to name a few have enriched and enhanced the lives of Nicholson’s citizens in many ways.
Nicholson has always been the home of professionals in business, education, government, law, humanities and the arts, and medicine. Dr. W. L. Hood practiced medicine and dentistry in Nicholson until his death in 1908. Dr. Hood’s office was next door to his home and both are still standing on Mulberry Street.
Education has always been a high priority in the community. Prior to 1936, five small schools (Center, New Harmony, Nicholson, Antioch, and Hood’s Academy) were in existence in the Nicholson area, housing students through the seventh grade. High school students went to Commerce High School before 1936. Many times, high school students paid the 26 cents to ride the train to school in Commerce.
In 1936, Nicholson voted on bonds for a new consolidated school. A $45,000 brick school was erected on five acres John David donated the five acres where the school was built. It is believed that the land was originally a grant from the king of England and had never been bought or sold. The new school building had 10 classrooms with 300 students enrolled in grades one through 11, then the final year of high school and named for T. T. Benton, (Benton Home 1896) county school superintendent. The school building was built as a WPA project with 10 classrooms and housed 300 students in grades 1 through 11. In 1946 through a community drive of various fundraisers initiated by the PTA at Benton money was raised and matched by the state to build a cafeteria for hot lunches. In 1956, Benton again became an elementary school and high school students were bused to Commerce High School until 1979 when the contract with Commerce City Schools expired. Beginning in the fall of 1979 the students from Benton school community attended Jackson County High School located in Jefferson. Presently students in the Nicholson area Grades K-5 attend Benton and East Jackson Elementary Schools, Grades 6-8 attend East Jackson Middle School and Grades 9-12 attend Jackson County Comprehensive High School in Jefferson. In 1972 tragedy struck when arsonists set fire to the Benton Elementary School building. The main building was a total loss. Grades 1 through 5 continued school at Nicholson Congregational Holiness Church and Grades 6 through 8 continued at Nicholson United Methodist Church. When the school burned, students missed classes for only one day. They attended classes in the Methodist (currently the Nicholson Community Center) and Congregational Holiness churches for the remainder of the school year. In September, all classes were held in a metal building, which had been erected after the school burned. The new school was built in 1975. The metal building now serves as the gymnasium. The Benton School and community have always been extremely active through cooperative efforts of students, parents, faculty, staff and friends.
As with any small community or town, churches, worship and outreach are very central in the citizens’ lives. Cabin Creek Baptist Church, established in 1796,it was moved to its present location in April of 1917,and it is the oldest church in the Nicholson area, this church was established the same year Jackson County was created. Cabin Creek was considered the third church founded of the early churches in Jackson County, Oconee Baptist Church near the Dry Pond Community was the first and was erected in 1788, the second was Thyatira Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1795. Some of the other older churches in the Nicholson area include Antioch United Methodist Church, 1799, Center United Methodist Church, late 1800’s, Berea Baptist Church 1888, and Center Baptist Church 1892 the original which is now located at Hurricane Shoals Historic Park, Nicholson Baptist established in 1909, Nicholson Pentecostal Fire-Baptized Holiness established in 1918, River of Life, formerly called Nicholson Congregational Holiness established in 1921 and the Nicholson United Methodist established in 1906 and closed in 1994.
Nicholson has always been extremely well represented in the area print media with community news being written by the late Jewett Barnett and until just recently Hilder Palmer Watkins.
Nicholson was originally incorporated in 1907, however, in 1937 following extreme devastation during the Depression in Nicholson’s early years, it was mostly a farming area. And considering World War II, when most of the men in the community were either serving in the war or working in defense plants. Nicholson did not re-enact its city charter. On April 29, 1972, after 35 years of being inactive and following state legislative and executive approval, Nicholson became a town again, Nicholson elected a mayor, George Palmer and council. Nineteen mayors and councils have been elected since Nicholson was originally incorporated in 1907 and the reenactment of the city charter in 1972.
The original city hall was located on the Benton Elementary School Campus eventually moving to the City Hall located adjacent to the Nicholson Area Volunteer Fire Department. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners donated the New City Hall structure located at 175 Lakeview Drive, under the supervision of the County Manager.
Nicholson opened its first public library in 1975. The present library building, the Harold S. Swindle Public Library was opened in 1990. The Nicholson Water Authority was established in 1965. In February 1972 when Benton Elementary School was destroyed by fire. This led to the formation of the Nicholson Volunteer Fire Department.
Within four months, the department had its first truck and a rescue van was added shortly thereafter. A town meeting was called by United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Sanford Willard after the devastating fire in the city jail and also one which destroyed Benton Elementary School.
As the city continues to reach out into the 21st Century it is fitting for those who hold Nicholson near and dear to their hearts to cherish the words of the late Jewett Barnett in a column in the January 6, 1917 edition of The Jackson Herald: “Some places are praised for the magnificent buildings, while others are honored for the fine scenery. Nicholson would not take the prize of the above cases, yet she can furnish just as good, cultured people as any town.”