Columbia County christened its "magnificent" new courthouse five years ago this week, and that's when officials say Evans started to develop its identity.
The Columbia County Justice Center was dedicated on Nov. 20, 2002. It received the blessings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who hailed the courthouse as a "magnificent" center for law and order.
Commission chairman Ron Cross said the justice center has established Evans as the center of the county. Since the justice center was built, the county has completed the library, redesigned Building C on the government campus, acquired and renovated the former State Farm building for use by the Sheriff's Office and Emergency Services Division and purchased the land for the Evans Town Center Park.
"I definitely think it established the identity (of Evans)," said Cross, whose company, CCI Construction, built the justice center before he took office. "It is also such a magnificent and attractive structure, I think it lends credibility to the county. Not that (the old Appling courthouse) didn't."
Upon the justice center's dedication, the county held the distinction of having the oldest and newest continuously operating courthouses in the state.
With its neo-classical design, the justice center became one of the more recognizable buildings in the county. The building's symmetry and bold white columns, offset by red brick, carries over to the adjacent main library, which was completed four years later.
The view of the courthouse from Ronald Reagan Drive might have been obscured had the county followed through with plans to build offices where the rows of familiar magnolia trees now stand, Cross said.
The 70,000-square-foot center houses four courtrooms, a hearing room and has holding cells for prisoners in its basement and between courtrooms. When it opened it became the home of probate court, juvenile court, magistrate court, superior court, the district attorney's office and clerk of court.
Its design quickly became the envy of many communities in the state, Cross said.
"Every county that wants to build a courthouse has either been here or called about an aspect of this courthouse," he said.
Clerk of Court Cindy Mason said she remembers the difficulties of working in the old Appling courthouse before its recent renovation.
"It was difficult meeting the needs of the public," she said. Cramped spaces made record searches difficult and there was no room to accommodate new employees.
Though space for real estate and court records is becoming tight in the new courthouse, Mason said she feels fortunate to have it when she looks back on her days at the Appling courthouse.
"It's been a pleasure having this new building," she said. "I have to pinch myself still, because I am honored to have such a nice place to work."
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