Jake Pollard reminisced back to his days as a child while standing in the newly renovated courtroom of the Appling Courthouse on Friday.
"We would play in and around the courthouse," Pollard, a former state senator who lived next to the courthouse, said to a crowd of about 70 people on hand for the courthouse's rededication. "The best place to hide? Right there," he said, pointing to the judge's bench.
The story was just one of many told Friday at the ceremony to reopen the Appling Courthouse, which is considered the oldest continually operating courthouse in Georgia, with a county engraving stating it opened in 1856 and others saying part of the building dates as far back as 1812.
For the past year, the courthouse had been undergoing a roughly $900,000 renovation project.
The work included such things as adding a new heart pine floor to the courtroom, adding new shutters to the outside, reopening a back entrance, adding chandeliers to brighten the atmosphere, and installing new benches.
It even included a paint job and a refurbishing of plaques mounted over the judge's bench displaying the names of the county's Civil War dead and those who died in World War I and World War II.
The event came with a sweet aroma of barbecue, served under a tent outside, and fond remembrances by area judges and politicians.
"This was a common practice. When log trucks would go by, the judge would say 'Just a minute,'" Pollard said. "Traffic would go by, and the judge would then say, 'Go ahead.'"
With the renovations, energy-efficient windows added to the courtroom should keep outside noise down. At one time, the courthouse also didn't have air conditioning or central heating.
Superior Court Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. told the crowd how a bird once flew in the courtroom and stopped proceedings, because windows were opened in summertime to cool things down.
He also spoke about how on a cold January day he remembered halting court to get warm by a heater at the rear of the courtroom.
"I said, 'Wait a minute, there's a heater back here. Let's go stand by that heater,'" he said to laughter, later adding, "So this is a great improvement."
The rededication was overseen by guest speaker U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story, who is a Columbia County native.
Story said the courthouse was where he received his first drivers license and that it should be seen as a historic treasure in the county, an area where the hub of activity once was. "We have certainly preserved something I think is well worth preserving," Story said. "... If these walls could talk, we would hear all the ways lives have been touched here."
Because Appling is the county seat of Columbia County, Superior Court must occur twice each year in the Appling Courthouse. County commissioners also plan to hold meetings once a quarter in the courthouse starting next year.
"To me, it's beautiful," Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. "And I hope it meets the expectations of all of those who served here and met here."
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