"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."
- Willa Cather
Sometimes I think the major qualification for public service is knowing how to pick a good fight.
Why do I think this? All I know is whether the issue is setting the millage rate, choosing which road project to schedule next or deciding how many apartments to allow per acre and storm drain, every major decision in the history of Columbia County has been enthusiastically proposed and vigorously protested - all at the same time.
Today, as we consider these and other important decisions, I thought it might be fun to look back and see how much today's county residents and those who lead us resemble our forebears.
- Thomas Brown, whose 1774 land grant covered much of present-day Appling, might have been future Columbia County's most notorious British Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, but he was far from alone. Historians believe one in four colonists remained loyal to the Crown throughout the war, but in this part of Georgia that ratio was one in three.
As the youngest colony in the new world, Georgia's ties to the mother country were stronger than those of the other 12 - and for a good reason: The Indian threat was still very real here and Georgians believed they needed the British to protect them from harm. At least many verbal battles were fought here between those who were loyal to the Crown and the Patriots who fought for independence.
- Following the war, prominent Georgia leaders William Few and George Walton agreed on many points about their new (Richmond) County, except one: where to place the county seat.
Few thought those who lived in the western part of the county should not have to travel 30-40 miles by horse-drawn carriage to hold court and vote. But Walton, who lived in Augusta, was not about to go "way out in the woods" for the same purpose.
With strong support for each side, the stalemate lasted 10 years - until Dec. 10, 1790, when the Georgia General Assembly cut the county in two and granted each man his wish. George Walton then had his civilized county seat, and William Few, the undisputed father of the new Columbia County, had his.
- With exploding cotton production in the 1830s, business and population in and around Columbia County were booming. But no longer were crude roads or, because of fluctuating water levels, the often impassable Savannah River adequate to move people, products and supplies from one location to another. Without depending on the cash-strapped state or local government, area businessmen pooled their own resources, secured a charter from the state and began making plans to build the Georgia Railroad.
Simple solution, right? Well, you should have heard the objections.
No matter how treacherous the river, it was still cheaper to transport goods by water than by rail, said the planters. Next came concerned citizens of Lexington and Oglethorpe counties, who forbade trains from coming within four miles of a town lest their homes be covered with soot and their livestock so frightened that cows would give less milk and horses might run away.
And back here in Columbia County, churches were adamant that trains not be allowed to run on Sunday. (Was it the noise, or the fear that some of their parishioners would be tempted to spend the necessary two cents per mile and commune with their God as they rode out of town?)
- Reminiscent of the feud over the county seat, two of the county's four courthouses, the 1792 building in Cobbham and the current structure on Ronald Reagan Drive, were controversial because their locations were not centrally located. (The Appling location, site of buildings No. 2 and 3, met with nearly unanimous approval.)
- And does anyone remember the outcry against the Savannah Rapids Park and Pavilion nearly two decades ago? From the loss of trees and the endangered relict trillium flower, to the possibility of disturbing Indian graves beneath the bluff and the perennial "non-central location," protesters beat a steady path to the site for months before the project was approved and work could begin.
So, current county leaders and citizens alike, take heart. Good decisions - as in all the above - usually win out in the end, not because one side is necessarily more powerful or wise than the other, but because any decision is made stronger with input from an informed, concerned and, yes, vocal public.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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