Early records show that what is now called Fairburn, was settled as early as 1830. In 1833, the town was founded as Cartersville, changing its name one year later to Berryville. According to historian Lucian Lamar Knight, Fairburn was probably named for a township in the County of York, England.
Fairburn’s town charter was enacted by the State Legislature in 1854. The jurisdiction of the town government was set within a 600-yard radius from the railroad depot, this land then being the two counties of Fayette and Campbell. This period also marked the beginning of the decline of Campbellton, population 1,200, also the County seat, whose leadership wanted no involvement with the railroad. After the legislature agreed to move county boundaries several miles to the east, Fairburn became the most desirable location for a new county seat. Campbell County administration abandoned the Campbellton Courthouse which was moved to temporary headquarters in Fairburn in 1870. A new county courthouse was built and occupied there in 1871. Many Campbellton residents moved away at that time.
In 1870, Fairburn’s total population was 305, with 208 white and 97 black residents. By 1871, the town boasted six dry good stores; five groceries; a hotel; a printing press which produced a weekly newspaper, four saloons; factories, two marble yards, several cotton gins, and an oil mill. In addition, a private school had been started, housed in various locations. Several churches were organized, including a Baptist and a Methodist church.
In 1875, the town limits were extended to a half mile radius from the depot. By 1879, 5,000 bales of cotton were being shipped from the Fairburn Deport, annually. There were now several steam-powered grist and saw mills, two schools and two telegraph offices. Fairburn residents offering professional services included seven physicians and five lawyers.
By 1884, the population had grown to 700. That year, the county jail was built for approximately $5,000. The Gazetteers mentioned “an excellent academy” in addition to “white and colored commons schools”. The “academy” was the forerunner of Fairburn Institute, which was erected in 1889, resulted from a public and bond issue. This highly regarded, graded-school sent every member of its 1892 graduating class on to college. The first glimpse of the Fairburn town center through Sanborn Insurance maps in 1892 shows a mixture of brick and frame buildings lining Main Street, also called Depot Street. A combination passenger and freight depot with a frame loading platform is still situated across the street from the rows of building. The town center also included a frame two-story “Fairburn Hotel.”
By 1896, Fairburn was also regarded as a banking town. The Fairburn Banking Company was chartered in 1891, and two banks joined ranks and prospered. Sanborn maps from 1903 document a large amount of stone construction in the town center. The map shows that one-half of the block facing Main Street between Smith and Campbellton Streets were stone buildings. Most of these structures have survived. In 1903, the Fairburn Hotel was still active and a new frame passenger depot and a brick freight house had replaced the earlier depot. In 1905, a telephone system was installed in Fairburn. The town installed electric lights in 1911. Also in 1911, the Fairburn Railway and Electric Company began passenger service from Fairburn to the street car line in College Park.
In 1906, the city limits were extended to a one mile radius from the depot. That same year, a system of public schools was authorized. In 1909, the limits were expanded to include forty acres on the north side. The Fairburn Hotel was destroyed by fire that same year.
Sanborn maps from 1921 show few changes to the row of buildings between Smith and Campbellton. The row to the north between Campbellton and Cole Street had changed dramatically. Green Store, which had been the only brick structure located in this block, had been joined by brick structures on both sides to form a new continuous row. This row of structures remains intact today. New depots – separate brick freight and passenger facilities – were built in 1917. The construction of two railroad bridges was also carried out at this time.
By 1920, the population of Fairburn had reached 1,600. By the following decade, Fairburn would see a decline in population by nearly fifteen percent, due largely to a nationwide economic depression and a failing local agricultural economy. By 1925, Fairburn had a new charter, a mayor and council, and changed its status from a “town” to a “city.”
In 1921, a soldiers monument was erected in the middle of West Broad Street to honor those who had died in World War I. (The monument was moved to the Holly Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in 1967). A granite boulder was placed in the Depot Park in 1937 by the Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate the site of the unfurling o f the first Confederate Flag in Fairburn in 1861. A Confederate marker, a flute column which one time stood in a park space adjacent to Broad Street north of the Depot, was moved to the civic cemetery.
In 1929, the Fairburn Railway and Electric Company made its last run to College Park. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of that year show the cotton oil company in dilapidated condition and few other big industries left.
By 1940, the population was increasing again and soon surpassed 1920 levels. In 1932, Campbell County was absorbed by Fulton County, and Fairburn relinquished its status as a county seat. This did not hinder the town’s growth, and Fairburn experienced steady development through mid-century.
Today, the downtown is a Commercial Historic District that is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The buildings located along West Broad Street between Smith and Dodd, and those adjacent to the Atlanta and West Point railroad, are all included in this district. The district includes approximately 20 different commercial buildings ant the two train depots. They are late 19th and early 20th century buildings, ranging from one to three stories in height. The building styles range from Neoclassical to Italianate, to simple utilitarian. The Campbell County Historical Society is located in the Old Campbell County Courthouse on West Broad Street. The Courthouse is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an institutional resource. The Old Campbell County Historical Society is an active well-organized, non-profit group that cares for the old courthouse and hosts scheduled tours and educational activities.
Over the past several years, the downtown area has undergone a revitalization process and the economy of the downtown is improving. Fairburn still retains its two train depots, both built in 1917 of red brick with tile roofs and wide, overhanging eaves. Rail service is no longer available in downtown Fairburn. The City has completed renovation of both the passenger and freight depots which are occupied by law offices and antiques shops, respectively. An award winning revitalization plan was prepared for the district in 1988 and is currently guiding implementation of improvements by the Downtown Development Authority.