(Editor's note: Many visitors to the Masters Tournament make their temporary homes in Columbia County. For them - and also for full-time residents who want to brush up on facts about their county - we provide this overview, along with a guide to area names in Columbia County.)
Its symbol is a sailing ship and its name is derived from explorer Christopher Columbus. And though few of them arrived by boat, most of its residents have only recently arrived.
Columbia County is the fastest-growing Georgia county outside the Atlanta area, evolving from an agrarian community of barely 10,000 residents in 1900, to a blossoming bedroom community to Augusta in the 1970s with nearly 40,000 residents, to its current status as a swelling suburb with a population that county Senior Planner Tim Young predicts will hit 100,000 next year.
More than 200 years ago, Columbia County was carved from Richmond County in a dispute over the location of a courthouse. Augusta officials wanted the court building near downtown, but rural residents argued the site was too far away. The Georgia Legislature solved the argument by splitting Columbia County on Dec. 10, 1790, and a couple of years later William Appling donated five acres to the new county for a courthouse and jail.
The county first established a courthouse in 1793, built a new one in 1812 and rebuilt it in 1856. That facility, one of the county's more important landmarks, is Georgia's oldest courthouse in continual use.
Visitors to Columbia County are more likely, however, to see the county's new Justice Center in Evans, which opened in 2002. Nearby, they'll see construction on the county's $8.5 million main library and performing arts center, slated to open in 2005.
Those public-works projects are matched with school construction efforts, as nearly one new school per year opens to keep up with population growth. More than 19,000 pupils attend the county's public schools, where students consistently rank above state and national averages in SAT scores and other standardized tests.
Though the school system is the county's largest single employer, it is the private sector that drives the county's economy. Columbia County is home to golf-car maker Club Car, tractor manufacturer John Deere and catalog printer Quebecor World, among others.
Many of the county's jobs, however, are in the home construction business, which serves first-time buyers and luxury homeowners alike with new home prices ranging from the mid-$70,000s to more than $500,000.
Those homeowners sport a median household income of more than $50,000 - compared to a state average of just over $36,000. As a result, retailers are pursuing major developments in the booming Evans area to take advantage of a buying income of $1.5 million.
Construction on a new shopping center anchored by Target is expected to begin later this year, continuing the retail ripple effect that began with the opening of the Evans Wal-Mart Supercenter in 2002.
Evans: Not a city but instead a densely populated geographic area defined by the delivery routes of a post office that originally opened in 1882, Evans shares the eastern tip of Columbia County with Martinez. It is named for one of the area's first settlers, Gen. George W. Evans, and was located along the C&WC Railroad, which had an Evans depot. Early maps of the area frequently misspelled the community as "Evens."
Martinez: This unincorporated area, located mostly south of Evans, is named for Antonio Martinez Y Saldivar, a Cuban who moved to the county by way of New York in the late 1800s. Instead of the traditional marTEEnez, Columbia County residents pronounce the area's name martNEZ - but it originally was called Lulaville, after Sadivar's daughter, until postal officials realized Georgia already had a Lulaville when they built the Martinez post office in 1915.
Harlem: Established in 1870, Columbia County's oldest incorporated city also has a New York link, owing its name to early visitors who thought the fledgling town resembled the Big Apple's artistic center. The smaller of Columbia County's two cities is bisected by railroad tracks that once brought visitors from Augusta for performances at the Columbia Opera House. Harlem today is best known for its annual Oliver Hardy Festival, celebrating the city's status as the birthplace of the larger half of the famed comedic duo Laurel and Hardy.
Grovetown: Established as a town in 1909 and incorporated as a city in 1959, Grovetown was named for its Grove Baptist Church. Like Harlem, Grovetown in its early history enjoyed a reputation as a rural refuge from Augusta's sweltering summers and insects, and was accessed via a railroad depot that once stood in the center of town. The city owes much of its modern growth to its proximity to Fort Gordon.
Appling: Originally known only as the village of the Columbia Courthouse, the town of Appling was established in 1792 on five acres of land donated by William Appling. Though there is some dispute over whether the town was ever incorporated, it was chartered in 1816 and lost the charter in 1995 when the state Legislature eliminated nonfunctioning governments. Appling remains the county seat and its courthouse is the oldest operating in Georgia, and the old jail is home to the county's historical society. Early maps also call the area Applington.
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