After learning that from 1790 to 1950 the population of Columbia County varied only slightly between 8,300 and just more than 13,000 people, I wondered why in the last 50-60 years we have multiplied nearly 12 times.
According to the 1950 census, about 9,500 people called Columbia County home. Current predictions are that by 2010, that number will reach 110,000, with some projections saying the county is already at 113,000.
Why? What do we have that other locations around the state or the country don't have? During a visit last year to my home town of Milo, Maine, for example, I was surprised to learn that during the same period of time our town had become smaller. What used to be one of the largest towns in the county had dropped from 2,500 people to a little more than 2,000. Maybe there's something to that cold-weather put-off, after all.
But back to Columbia County: Out of possibly a dozen reasons besides the climate, three important mid-century arrivals to east-central Georgia account for much of that growth: Fort Gordon, the Savannah River Site, and a very large lake along the northeastern border of the county.
As the record shows, for many who came here to take advantage of these new employment or quality-of-life opportunities, if they wanted a home "out in the country," plus good schools for their children and a short commute to work, then friends, colleagues and the local real estate industry steered them to Columbia County.
Although all three of the above drawing cards have fascinating histories, for now, at the beginning of another season of water sports and outdoor living, I thought you might like to know a little more about that lake of many names, including what early residents called, "Georgia's inland sea."
I could begin by telling you that this combination flood-control, hydropower and recreation area is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' largest inland water project east of the Mississippi, or that with approximately 6 million visitors annually, it's also one of the Corps' 10 most popular lakes in the country.
We could add statistics, including 71,000 acres of water at full pool, 80,000 more acres of controlled land around the lake, nearly a dozen state and county parks, 13 campgrounds, six marinas, multiple boat ramps and swim areas for day use, plus many more private or group-leased sites along the 1200-mile shore line.
If I did you might continue to read politely, but everyone really wants to know only one thing: What is that giant water project's real name?
Is it Clark Hill without an "s," Clarks Hill with an "s" - with an apostrophe or without - or, following a 1987 Congressional Resolution to drop the variegated Clark-Clarks-Clark's name altogether and rename the lake and dam after South Carolina's long-term senator, J. Strom Thurmond, is it now and forever Thurmond Lake and Dam?
Well, that depends. When the project was conceived in 1944, it was to be called Clarks Hill, not with an apostrophe to signify an individual namesake - in this case, John Mulford Clark, a landowner on the South Carolina side where the dam was to be built - but, according to Corps of Engineers policy, after Mr. Clark's geographic location, the community of Clarks Hill.
This explanation settles both the apostrophe discrepancy and the reason for the naked "s," but those who believe there should be no "s" at all are basing their opinion on an understandable but shaky foundation. Search the record today and you will find many references to Clark Hill Lake and Dam without the "s," simply because of a typographical error on some staffer's paperwork when the project was presented.
But is it still Clarks Hill or, since 1987, Thurmond? Well, that depends. When the name change was suggested by U.S. Rep. Butler Derrick, D-S.C., as a birthday present to Thurmond, the resolution passed nearly unanimously by the senator's colleagues in Washington, D.C.
Reaction back home, however, especially on the Georgia side of the river, was overwhelmingly against the decision.
Buoyed by angry citizens who circulated petitions against the name change, U.S. Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., introduced legislation to change the name back to Clarks Hill. Barnard's bill never made it out of committee in Congress, but all those thousands of petition signatures resonated with local legislators in Atlanta.
Thus, although the Corps of Engineers and the map-makers in South Carolina set the Thurmond name in stone - literally across the top of the dam - Georgia lawmakers enacted legislation to keep the name Clarks Hill Lake, if not the dam, on all state maps and road signs.
Now and then, you can still hear a seasoned South Carolinian using the original name, too. After all, the town of Clarks Hill is still on their side of the river.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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