Jim Blanchard, the newest judge in the Augusta Judicial Cir-cuit, remembers when court week in Columbia County was a huge social event, complete with barbecue dinners cooked in a wood-fired pit behind the old courthouse in Appling.
The new Judicial Center that formally opened last week, then, marks a leap forward, Blanchard says. It shows how far weve come. That building in Appling served us very well in its time, and now it seems like well be going into the next century.
Blanchard, and some of the countys other long-time officials who were at last weeks Justice Center ribbon-cutting, still hold fond memories for the Appling courthouse.
I do, too. In fact, most anyone who has been in Columbia County more than a couple of decades remembers when court week meant cars lining both sides of the road in Appling, and a hog or chickens roasting over a barbecue pit out back.
The stretch of highway that runs through the county seat is now named the Jake Pollard Highway, in honor of G.B. Jake Pollard Jr. and his father, known around the county as Mr. Jake. The two of them served, son after father, for more than 70 years as clerk of superior court. Jake Jr. since was state senator, and still lives near the Appling courthouse.
It was a surprise, then, that Pollard was one of the strongest voices arguing that the new courthouse annex should be built in Evans.
Remember: Columbia County voters were asked in a referendum not just to approve paying for the courthouse annex, but to decide the location of what is now called the Justice Center.
Voters, the vast majority of whom live in Martinez-Evans, overwhelmingly approved the Evans location, while citizens in the less-populous west end of the county wanted to keep the courthouse in Appling.
Nostalgia buffs will be heartened to know court still will be held in Appling twice a year so the county can continue to lay claim to the oldest operating courthouse in Georgia (since 1856), as well as to having the newest.
But lest we look back too fondly to those old Appling cookouts, we should remember, as Pollard does: Those barbecues were a necessity. Unless the sheriffs wife whipped up a few extra meals at the jail across the street, there simply was nowhere else in Appling for attorneys and trial participants to eat. Any restaurants were too far away for a lunch-hour trip.
In Evans, at least, there will be no lack of food when superior court is held. Heck, if trial participants drive over to Martinez, they can even find some pretty good barbecue.
Another civil war
The Justice Center opening went smoothly, but be-hind the scenes - and behind the site - a rift has opened.
The same day Columbia County Republican primary voters approved a straw-poll question about placing a Confederate monument at the Justice Center, county commissioners voted to put such a monument in the proposed Memorial Gardens behind the Justice Center.
Members of the Evans camp of the Sons of Con-federate Veterans won ap-proval for the monument, which theyre paying for. But it was members of Augustas older Augusta SCV camp - which includes many Columbia County members - who first pushed the idea.
Some Augusta SCV members are angry that the new monument wont have a Confederate battle flag on it. They feel betrayed by what the Evans camp describes as the more consensus-building attitude that won Commission approval.
Theyre lucky to get a monument at all. When even supporters like Commissioner Tom Mercer worry out loud that someone may be offended by the marker, its no time for the SCV to fight a new civil war within its own ranks.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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