When word came a couple of weeks ago that Columbia County's school system will build a new administration building in Evans, I thought about Bill Jackson and Lonnie Morris.
Jackson, who retired two years ago as a Columbia County member of the Georgia House of Representatives, was always a big supporter of "the little village of Appling." He fought against building the new courthouse annex in Evans, but state Rep. Ben Harbin put through a bill to allow the Justice Center to be built outside of the county seat.
Jackson, who served on the county's first elected school board back when it moved into that administration building in 1971, also was the man who later erected a monument there in memory of John Pierce Blanchard, the man who was the county's school superintendent at the time.
The man who is now the county's school superintendent has been reluctant to move ahead on building a new office for the school system administration, even though the system has long since outgrown the Appling building. Tommy Price knows it's hard, politically, to build new offices while kids are still trudging outside to portable classrooms.
Yet in the same school board session in which plans for the $2.5 million administrative building got a public viewing, Price bowed to reality: "We're going to be in the portable business as long as our county is growing like it is," he said.
Grow it has. Back when the current administration building opened, the county's population was hovering around 30,000; it's more than tripled in the 30 years since.
What's more, the population growth has been primarily on the eastern tip of Columbia County, far away from Appling. That means most parents who want to do business with the school system have a long drive.
It wasn't so many years ago that such was the case for everyone. There once was only one tag office, for example, and it was in Appling. Back when car tags were renewed just once a year, deadline day meant long lines of people draped along the sidewalk outside the little building.
Tootie's store did booming business on those days, as it did when court was held at the Appling Courthouse. Parking was hard to come by, and the highway was often lined with cars for a quarter-mile on each side.
That was also back when the Appling Jaycees, with Lonnie Morris Sr. at the helm, pushed to build the baseball park around the corner. I spent a lot of time at that park as a kid, so it's great county officials will formally name it in Morris' memory on Saturday.
The park still thrives, but eventually pressure grew on county officials to provide services more conveniently to the majority of the community. That meant the construction of the Government Complex in Evans, and the gradual decline of Appling.
The county's new Detention Center was built a mile away. Tootie's store has long since closed, as did J.D. Howell's store just down the street. Even the post office moved up the hill. In addition to Mr. Lonnie's baseball park there have been some signs of continued life, from the Appling Fire Department headquarters to the county's newly renovated construction office. The county's Historical Society hangs onto the old jail, and the courthouse awaits a facelift.
The old school administration building will still be used as offices for specialized services, but the new main office will go to a new site on
Hereford Farm Road, just a couple of miles from the Government Complex.
Some day, life and commerce will return to Columbia County's oldest town, birthed 212 years ago as the county itself was in its infancy. It took a long time to grow that little community; maybe it won't take quite so long to grow it back.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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