The County Court-house is the legal center of the community, the silent witness to its birth and growth..., and a symbol of the sovereignty of its people.
- Courthouses in Georgia, by Robert H. Jordan and J. Gregg Puster
In the course of 212 years of Columbia County history, very little has been accomplished without controversy. The good news, however, is that just as often, at the end of multiple differences of opinion, wonderful things have been accomplished.
These were my sentiments recently as I stood with other citizens to witness the ribbon cutting for the new Justice Center in Evans. Now, besides possessing the oldest working courthouse in Georgia, Columbia County can also boast the newest. But when this building, on this site, was proposed more than four years ago, not everyone was wearing a bandwagon smile.
From Appling residents and Columbia County natives, these comments were likely: I dont think they should move it from Appling. This is the county seat; the courthouse should stay where it is.
But from the eastern end of the county where more residents live, and from the judicial community, you were likely to hear: It is more convenient in Evans; I hate the ride to Appling.
ould it surprise anyone to learn there might not have been a Columbia County at all if it hadnt been for a controversy over the original courthouse?
George Walton and William Few may have fought on the same side for American independence, but almost from the birth of Richmond County, which then included all of Columbia County, these two patriots had entirely different views on where the county seat -- and thus the courthouse - should be.
Walton, signer of the Declaration of Independence and future governor of Georgia, wanted the county seat in civilized Augusta, not way out in the woods. Few, on the other hand, Revolutionary War hero and signer of the U.S. Constitu-tion, wanted the county seat at Brownsborough (Appling today), at the geographic center of the county.
The political battle lasted 10 years until, in 1790, the Georgia Legislature voted to cut Richmond County in two, essentially giving both Walton and Few a courthouse of his own. Shortly after that decision there would be a brief skirmish between Few and his neighbor, William Appling, over whose donated land would become the site of the new courthouse. Since theres no mention of Fewville in the county record, its not hard to tell which mans generosity was accepted. In fairness to Few, the county seat was not given the name of Appling until 1816, long Few had left Georgia to spend the rest of his life in New York.
Are the courthouse controversies over? Probably not. I see differences of opinion on what to do with the old courthouse. I also see dozens of ways that county treasure can still serve its people.
In addition to holding court two or more times a year, the building could become a museum, an art gallery, or a meeting place. The courtroom itself makes a grand theater, as Joanne Greene demonstrated when her Lakeside High drama class once held a production there. The same room also becomes a concert hall, as the Columbia County Choral Society has experienced.
The moral of this story is not that Columbia County is a contentious place to live, but that through diversity of opinion and educated debate, the best possible decisions, like our beautiful new courthouse, can be made.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer and author of As Long as the Rivers Run, a work in progress on Columbia Countys history. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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