Columbia County, the 12th county formed in Georgia, was created by an act of the Legislature of Georgia on December 10, 1790 from Richmond County.
This area along the Savannah River had been inhabited for thousands of years by various cultures of indigenous peoples. The area had been home to the historic Muscogee-speaking Creek; Yuchi, people speaking a language isolate; and Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee for years prior to European colonization. The Yuchi had moved south from Tennessee because of pressure from the Cherokee, who continued to move into the Piedmont and soon dominated the Native American tribes. One of the oldest archaeological sites in the nation to contain pottery can be found on Stallings Island.
During the Colonial era, settlement of what would become Columbia County occurred primarily due to colonists settling at the second city in Georgia, Augusta, located on the fall line. When the British Province of Georgia became a crown colony in 1755 and was divided into parishes, the area around Augusta became St. Paul's Parish. The primary areas of settlement were Augusta; Wrightsboro (a Quaker settlement named for James Wright, the royal governor); and Brownsborough, which was near the present-day location of North Columbia Elementary School. Brownsborough was settled by Scots, mainly from northern Scotland and the Orkney Islands, brought over as indentured workers by Thomas "Burnfoot" Brown.
Because the Church of England was the established church in the province, it was against the law for anyone to preach contrary to its doctrines. Influenced by the Great Awakening in New England, in 1772 Daniel Marshall established Kiokee Baptist Church, the first Baptist church in Georgia. The church was located below Brownsborough along the Kiokee Creek in present-day Appling. Born in Connecticut, Marshall had been raised as a Presbyterian. He had become a Baptist and preached in the Carolinas before coming to Georgia, where he was arrested. Baptist preachers and their converts continued to flourish, and in Virginia their influence helped shape the young James Madison's ideas on religious freedom, which he incorporated into the new Constitution. Marshall later served in the militia during the American Revolutionary War. During the 19th century and the Second Great Awakening, the Baptists became well established in Georgia and other southern states. The Baptists offered congregational participation to slaves and approved them and free blacks as preachers, leading to the growth in black membership in the church.
Two small battles occurred in what would become the County during the Revolutionary War between Patriot Militia and Tories; the area was then primarily frontier and loyalties were badly divided. Legend has it that a small band of Patriots sought refuge from marauding Tories at the County's most dramatic geological feature, Heggie's Rock. One of these fights occurred on September 11, 1781, between the forces of Elijah Clarke and a band of Tories and British Regular soldiers.
George Walton, the Virginia-born statesman who signed the Declaration of Independence, resided in what would become Columbia County, as did William Few and Abraham Baldwin. They were delegates to the Federal Convention that framed the United States Constitution.
Just before and immediately after the Revolution, numerous Virginians and North Carolinians migrated to the frontier of Georgia above Augusta, including the area around Brownsborough. After the Revolution, residents disagreed as to whether Augusta or Brownsborough should be the county seat of Richmond County. At the insistence of William Few, the county was partitioned. The new county formed from Richmond was named "Columbia" (for the origin of the name see Columbia); this did not end the controversy about location of the county seat. The citizens of Columbia County turned to arguing among themselves. Supporters built one courthouse in Brownsborough, and those of Cobbham built another. The courthouse at Cobbham was used; and Brownsborough in short order ceased to exist. In 1793, part of the County was taken, combined with part of Wilkes County, and formed into Warren County.
Around 1799, William Appling deeded a tract of land to the county for the purpose of building a courthouse. It was near Kiokee Creek and the Baptist Church which Marshall had founded. A courthouse was constructed, and served the county until around 1808. The small town that existed around the church and courthouse came to be known as "Columbia Courthouse." In 1809, the Baptist congregation left the town and constructed a new meeting house (a building which survives) several miles away near the junction of Kiokee and Greenbrier creeks. That same year, construction began on a new courthouse, which was completed in 1812. In 1816, Columbia Courthouse was chartered as the Town of Appling, named for the Appling family who had donated the land to the county, and for Colonel John Appling, a local resident who died in a campaign against the Seminole.
Appling was the political, educational, social, and religious center of the county. Near Appling were located Mt. Carmel Academy and Columbia Institute. Mt. Carmel Academy was run by the famous Southern educator, Moses Waddel; it was here that John C. Calhoun and William H. Crawford were educated. Columbia Institute was started by a certain gentleman going by the surname Bush; he was none other than the Bushnell of Revolutionary War submariner fame. During the Georgia Gold Rush of the 1820s, some successful prospecting and mining occurred in Columbia County.
The 1830s were a period of major infrastructure projects and the coming of the railroad. When the Georgia Railroad was established, the judges determined that having trains' passing near Appling would disturb their proceedings; they insisted that the railway line that was built in the county from Atlanta to Augusta pass well below Appling. Construction of the Augusta Canal in the 1830s required Columbia County's cooperation, as the beginning of the canal and the locks were within the county.
In 1855, the Courthouse in Appling received a major overhaul, and after the remodeling was complete, the building was in more or less its present form. Despite the extensive project, builders retained the shell of the 1809–1812 building.
Plantation agriculture based on slave labor was the major force of the economy in the county prior to the American Civil War. Cotton production had expanded dramatically after the invention of the cotton gin, which enabled the cultivation of short-staple cotton in the upland areas. Numerous vast plantations existed, the central houses of some of which still exist. Thousands of slaves were brought to the county for labor. At times the slave population outnumbered the free white population.
When Georgia seceded from the United States, George Walker Crawford, a native son of Columbia County, presided over the Secession Convention. He had previously been elected as the only Whig governor of the State. Men from the county served in several companies, among them the Hamilton Rangers and the Ramsey Guards, some in the 48th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and some in the 22nd; almost all in Wright's Brigade. The troops assembled in front of the courthouse, then boarded trains at the depots: Berzelia, Sawdust, Dearing, and Thomson. No fighting occurred in the County during the war; nor was it directly in General Sherman's path. According to some family stories, some Union cavalry scouts or bummers entered the county. Near the war's end, the remnants of the Confederate treasury were taken through Columbia County from Augusta to where the Chennault Raid occurred in neighboring Lincoln County.
The war took a heavy toll on the white male population of the county; a plaque behind the bench in the main Courtroom bears the names of Columbia County's Confederate dead. During Reconstruction, the County was subject to military occupation. Because of significant Ku Klux Klan violence in the late 1860s, it was attached to a special district including Warren, Wilkes, and Oglethorpe counties. Additional Union forces were sent there to try to suppress the insurgents and their vigilante crimes against freedmen. They had been steadily reported by the Freedmen's Bureau, whose reports included a mob lynching of a freedman in Appling in July 1866.
The railroad brought increased trade and population to Thomson. In 1870, the part of Columbia County which included Thomson, Dearing, and Wrightsboro, the 12,000 acre settlement established in 1768 by Colonial Governor James Wright as a settlement for displaced Quakers from North Carolina, was combined with parts of Warren County to form McDuffie County—named after South Carolina's U.S. Senator: George McDuffie. Thomson became the county seat of the newly formed county.
During the 1870s, Appling suffered severe damage during a tornado. It never regained its former wealth and position in the county before the Civil War.
During Reconstruction, the legislature passed an act to establish a public school system for the first time. Like the rest of the state, the county developed segregated schools. The new communities of Harlem and Grovetown grew up. Harlem arose in the 1880s when a disgruntled railroad employee named Hicks, angered by saloons and Sabbath breaking in Sawdust, moved along the tracks one mile east and set up a rival town, complete with its own depot. Sawdust was eclipsed by Harlem, losing its depot and being absorbed by the newer town in the 1920s. The city was named after Harlem, New York. Grovetown, named for Grove Baptist Church, developed as a summer resort in the 1880s for wealthy Augustans.
The 20th century brought many changes to the county, with new technologies and modernization. In 1917, Harlem was badly damaged by fire. Bringing electricity to the county began. Men from Columbia County answered the call of duty and served in both World Wars. Prior to World War II, the County was still primarily agricultural; it had escaped the boll weevil infestation that destroyed cotton crops in Mississippi and other parts of the South. The US Army built Camp (later Fort) Gordon, taking over a large portion of Richmond County and parts of Columbia, McDuffie, and Jefferson. The Army's keeping the fort after WWII created a new population and economic center for the county. During the 1950s, the Clarks Hill Dam was constructed, submerging considerable land in northern Columbia County under the new reservoir. It prompted new residential development around the lake.
Between 1950 and 1990, the population increased dramatically. Agriculture declined, as farmland was redeveloped as suburban housing and community centers for persons employed in Augusta. Numerous personnel stationed at Fort Gordon eventually settled in Columbia County. During the 1960s, the schools were integrated largely without incident under the leadership of Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard. The unincorporated communities of Martinez (formerly Lulaville, named after a Cuban doctor) and Evans (possibly named after Confederate General Clement A. Evans) became the population centers of the county, since they were located nearest to Augusta.
During the 1980s and 1990s and demographic shifts, Evans gradually became the de facto county seat, as the Columbia County Government Center and the Government Complex Addition were built there to serve the growing population in the county's eastern areas. Court functions remained in Appling since Georgia state law required that superior court sessions must be held at the county seat and courthouse of each county at least twice a year. In 1998, the legislature changed the law to allow counties with unincorporated county seats to hold court sessions at annexes or satellite courthouses. With the 1993 passage of legislation requiring incorporated cities to provide at least three municipal services, Appling was not able to maintain its status as an incorporated city. (There was question as to whether it was ever incorporated.) Appling was one of 187 inactive cities in Georgia that lost its charter on June 1, 1995. Today it is nearly a dead town. Following these changes, the county proceeded to build an expansive Courthouse Annex in Evans, completed in 2001. Appling retains its status as de jure county seat, but all governmental functions are carried out in Evans.
Historic sites in Appling include the Courthouse and Jail, the Marshall Monument, and various places associated with Kiokee Baptist Church. Other sites in the county include Stevens Creek Dam and Canal Locks, the birthplace of the comedian Oliver Hardy in Harlem, and various cemeteries.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 308 square miles (800 km2), of which 290 square miles (750 km2) is land and 18 square miles (47 km2) (5.7%) is water.
The southern three-quarters of Columbia County is located in the Middle Savannah River sub-basin of the Savannah River basin. A very small corner in the northeast of the county, west of Clarks Hill, is located in the Upper Savannah River sub-basin of the larger Savannah River basin. The northern portion of Columbia County, north of Appling, is located in the Little River sub-basin of the same Savannah River basin, while the southwestern corner of the county, south of Harlem, is located in the Brier Creek sub-basin of the Savannah River basin.Richmond County (southeast)
McDuffie County (west)
Lincoln County (northwest)
McCormick County, South Carolina (north)
Edgefield County, South Carolina (northeast)
As of the census of 2000, there were 89,288 people, 31,120 households, and 25,362 families residing in the county. The population density was 308 people per square mile (119/km²). There were 33,321 housing units at an average density of 115 per square mile (44/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 82.67% White, 11.21% Black or African American, 0.32% Native American, 3.36% Asian (0.6% of the Asians are of South Asian descent), 0.09% Pacific Islander, 0.80% from other races, and 1.56% from two or more races. 2.59% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 31,120 households out of which 44.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 67.50% were married couples living together, 10.60% had a female householder with no husband present, and 18.50% were non-families. 15.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.85 and the average family size was 3.18.
In the county, the population was spread out with 29.60% under the age of 18, 7.30% from 18 to 24, 31.00% from 25 to 44, 24.10% from 45 to 64, and 8.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 95.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.70 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $65,507, and the median income for a family was $72,891. Males had a median income of $45,577 versus $28,190 for females. The per capita income for the county was $24,578. About 4.20% of families and 5.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.60% of those under age 18 and 8.10% of those age 65 or over.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 124,053 people, 44,898 households, and 34,839 families residing in the county. The population density was 427.6 inhabitants per square mile (165.1/km2). There were 48,626 housing units at an average density of 167.6 per square mile (64.7/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 76.5% white, 14.9% black or African American, 3.8% Asian, 0.3% American Indian, 0.2% Pacific islander, 1.5% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 5.0% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 14.9% were American, 13.4% were German, 11.0% were Irish, and 10.8% were English.
Of the 44,898 households, 41.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.0% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 22.4% were non-families, and 18.6% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.13. The median age was 36.8 years.
The median income for a household in the county was $66,333 and the median income for a family was $74,426. Males had a median income of $54,592 versus $36,663 for females. The per capita income for the county was $29,479. About 5.3% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.5% of those under age 18 and 5.2% of those age 65 or over.
For more than a decade, there have been discussions by county officials to incorporate the county into a city. This issue first became moot in 1996 when the city of Augusta and Richmond County consolidated their governments. A state law mandating three mile buffer zones between cities effectively halted any efforts for Columbia County to incorporate, as it was contiguous to Augusta-Richmond County.
In 2005, talks of incorporating the county into a city resurfaced when the Georgia state legislature abolished the three mile buffer zone, thus allowing Sandy Springs in North Fulton County (contiguous to Atlanta) to become a city. Columbia County Commission Chairman, Ron Cross, led a campaign to bring the idea of county incorporation back to life. However, it was referred to as "consolidation," since counties in Georgia alone cannot incorporate, but can rather consolidate with an existing municipality within the county. The plan was to hold a referendum to incorporate Evans into a city (currently a census-designated place and home to most county government offices) and then simultaneously consolidate it with Columbia County.
The initiative drew strong opposition from officials in Harlem and Grovetown, the county's only municipalities, citing that it would keep their cities from growing. The word "consolidation" also had an immediate negative connotation with many residents of Columbia County, seeing the example of the Augusta-Richmond County plagued with unintended consequences. A straw poll conducted during the county Republican Party primary election, showed strong opposition to the idea countywide. The County Commission Chairman Ron Cross has vowed to keep the issue alive, but based on the negative sentiment from voters, it appears that at least for now, the idea of incorporation is back in hibernation.
Columbia county is served by the Columbia County Public Schools as well as Augusta Christian Schools, the Episcopal Day School, Augusta Preparatory Day School, both in Martinez.Columbia Middle School
Evans Middle School
Greenbrier Middle School
Grovetown Middle School
Harlem Middle School
Lakeside Middle School
Riverside Middle School
Stallings Island Middle School
Evans High School
Greenbrier High School
Grovetown High School
Harlem High School
Lakeside High School
Crossroads Academy (Alternative School)
Augusta Christian Schools (Private)
Augusta Preparatory Day School (Private)
Columbia County contains five small incorporated cities.Grovetown
Some notable persons either born in or who resided in Columbia County include: Oliver Hardy (comedian, born in Harlem), Paul Hamilton Hayne (poet and author), Henry Louis Benning (Confederate general for whom Fort Benning is named), William Few, Abraham Baldwin, George Walton, George W. Crawford, William H. Crawford (presidential candidate in 1824), Thomas Watson (populist leader and Georgia senator born in Thomson when it was still in Columbia County), George McDuffie (South Carolina governor and senator in the early 19th century), Jesse Mercer (a long-time preacher in the county for whom Mercer University is named) and Ben Hayslip (country music songwriter). Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum are also from Columbia County, where there is now the Lady Antebellum pavilion.
Columbia County is twinned with: Nowy Sącz, Poland