The focal point of government and judicial activity has shifted to the Evans-Martinez end of Columbia County, leaving Appling as county seat in name only. Both communities have received national acclaim recently by being chosen by a leading publication as among the best places to live in the United States.
The Evans area has experienced growth rates unmatched in other parts of Columbia County, except for her sister settlement of Martinez.
Today the majority of the county's population is in these two localities. For so long, this was a vast, almost barren landscape; now, with continuing construction, Evans has begun to take shape as a small metropolis.
A faction believes that in the future Evans will become an incorporated city, maybe in conjunction with Martinez, to become Columbia County's official county seat.
Also, a consolidated form of county government has been floated about with Evans at the helm, but so far this idea has failed to achieve the needed momentum to pass by the voters of the fast-growing county.
Martinez was named for Cuban emigrant Antonio Martinez y Saldivar, who lived here in Columbia County and Augusta with his three daughters Delores, Francess and Josephine, for a number of years after 1870. A settlement would take hold after the turn of the century. A postal outlet was initiated in Martinez Oct. 15, 1915.
The elder Martinez is believed to be buried in Florida. One of his daughters, Josephine, a native of Camaguey, Cuba, is buried in Augusta's Magnolia Cemetery in 1836. Her husband, George Perrin, had a namesake school in the Martinez vicinity in Richmond County for a number of years.
Less clear is the name origin for the scattered hamlet known as Evans.
Evans and Martinez grew up around perimeter settlements, namely Darby's and Quaker Springs, which flourished during the early stagecoach days of the 1830s and '40s.
Tradition has Evans being named for George Washington Evans, a business leader and mayor of Augusta in 1855. The home he occupied on his wife's berry plantation, on present-day Columbia Road, was known as Cedar Grove. It still stands, behind Church of Our Savior.
It must be emphasized that around this vicinity there was an abundant number of other, non-related Evans families in this period. Among these was landowner H.C. Evans. Furthermore, in a later newspaper article dated 1926, former Richmond County school superintendent Lawton B. Evans said the place probably was not named for his father, Clement Evans, of Civil War fame. Instead, he said, he thought it was named for the South Carolina Evanses who resided there in that time frame.
In this case, that would leave out George W. Evans as the one who some say is the village's namesake. It is believed the main reason his name has come into play is the reference to a stately house mentioned earlier. But we must not forget that over the years fire has claimed many other old recognized or so-called "stately" homesteads of yesteryear throughout Columbia County, making this statement somewhat irrelevant.
The location of Evans was around the junction of the-then Petersburg Road at what was the Augusta-Knoxville Railroad, with sporadic houses throughout. Here the country general stores of Evans and Squires provided the foundation of what we now know as the Evans surroundings. One of the proprietors here was Ben Evans, another likely candidate for the village's namesake.
With the laying of railroad tracks, stations periodically began to appear. The odd thing here is the local depot was listed as Jenkins, not Evans, on railroad timetables up until after the turn of the century in the 1900s. In 1886, the auspices of the rail facilities would be called the Port Royal and Western Carolina.
Thereafter, in 1896, the official title would change to the Charleston and Western Carolina Railroad, with its 133 miles of mainline tracks and terminus point at Spartanburg, S.C. The railroad would be known for its sharp curves and grades with approximately 16 miles of Georgia tracks before crossing the Savannah River into the Palmetto State. The depot of Evans would handle passengers and freight under the Charleston and Western Carolina banner for decades before being taken down. Through the years, the railroad was a valuable link to the outside world. The old Magnolia Line is now under the large umbrella of the CSX rail system.
U.S. Mail service was inaugurated in Evans on Jan. 19, 1882, with Thomas B. Jenkins as the first postmaster. Another strange occurrence: U.S. Postal records listed the name of the community as Evens, Ga., for 44 years until Dec. 1, 1926, when it was officially designated Evans.
Adding more fuel to the flame of the controversy over the name of Evans, there is a marker with the name E.L. Evens, who died in the late 1800s, buried in the Abilene Baptist Church cemetery.
A new high school was dedicated on New Year's Eve in 1926 in Evans, and would serve pupils from much of the surrounding countryside until it was destroyed by fire on Oct. 11, 1955. The old teachers' dormitory of that time has today been revitalized as a business called Strictly Country. Additionally, the former middle school that replaced the burned school, located along the Washington Road, recently has been torn down to make way for more businesses.
Black segregated schools in this area in the past have included Mount Enon, Gibbs, Oakey Grove and Gospel Water Branch. By 1970, all Columbia County schools were integrated.
For a span of later years, sawmilling and the timber industry thrived throughout the Evans area, and Roundtree's Grocery and Polatty's Service station, with its small menagerie of animals, became the news and pulse of the rural countryside. Also, the well-known Evans meat locker once served customers from all around during a different era.
Martinez's former apparel maker, Thomson Company, and Evans' Hall Printing, were two of the early major employers of the area.
In 1987 with increased growth at this section of the county, Columbia County leaders opened a government complex on land once owned by the Marshall family. A nearby aircraft beacome once stood in a field at this locality.
Today, Evans proudly proclaims a new, modern post office with all the up-to-date amenities, as well as a variety of commercial businesses in its new town center. Modern elementary and high schools dot the terrain, providing a contemporary curriculum for its students. Recently, the Columbia County Board of Education has seen fit to move their facilities to the Evans perimeter on Hereford Farm Road. In the education vain, a magnificent new library and performing arts venue serves local patrons. Churches of many faiths abound, and numerous parks and recreation facilities can be found.
As Evans continues to make the transition from its former rural character to an urban township, longtime citizens have vivid memories of the past. Though the old, wooden mail institution with the dog napping on the front porch is gone forever, it survives in the hearts and minds of many of Evans' senior residents.
Strange as it might appear, former signer of the U.S. Constitution, the first U.S. senator from Georgia and past early Columbia County political leader William Few wanted long ago for the county's original courthouse to be located at a place called Kiokee, near today's Greenbrier. A parkway in the vicinity bears this worthy American's name.
Today, the modern Evans courthouse annex, dedicated Nov. 20, 2002, is approximately five miles from this area. Maybe few knew more than two centuries ago what we are just finding out: that this particular area would eventually serve as a wonderful site for the county seat.
Through misspellings or for other unknown reasons, I present to you the reader the theories and mysteries of Evans and Martinez. You be the ultimate judge!
Charles Lord, of Grovetown, is a Columbia County historian.
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