What is Columbia County? Where is Columbia County? After centuries of growth, who or what built such a strong foundation for our community's success?
The buildings that welcomed you to our story can help answer some of those questions. From today's critical view, they appear to be simple sheds, but these "sheds" are part of none other than the White Oak United Methodist Campground. To this very day, camp meetings are held at the tabernacle built in 1872. The pioneer camp meeting was held at this site over one hundred and forty years ago in the summer of 1873.
The site of today's tabernacle is not the original location of White Oak Campground, which was originally established about 4 miles east of Thomson, Georgia, in 1800. During General Sherman's "March to the Sea" of the war between the states, his soldiers took over the campground as a resting place and to care for the wounded. Considering the less than sterile and hygienic practices of the mid-1800s, a deadly sickness ran rampant at this site. Surviving soldiers burned the original campground to the ground in 1865 or 1866.
In the spring of 1792, Francis Asbury, the pioneer bishop of American Methodism, made his way to the White Oak Campground, the first of a few visits to this camp. Asbury's ministry took him on adventures throughout Appalachia to visit new villages and towns as they sprouted up. John Wesley, founder of the Wesleyan tradition, recognized Asbury's influence as the natural leader of American Methodists. Asbury was ordained first as deacon, elder, and Superintendent, but later he was elevated even higher with a title of Bishop. To this day the great Methodist leader is memorialized at White Oak Campground by a meandering trail for visitors to explore.
A strong religious history such as that at White Oak United Methodist Campground is undoubtedly one of the reasons Columbia County's ancestors successfully laid a strong community foundation for future generations. As years turned to decades and decades turned to centuries, our ancestors saw advancements and diversification in religious denominations, political beliefs, and infrastructure to support healthy and prosperous growth.
Where in the World is Columbia County?
Situated at a midpoint along the Georgia-South Carolina border, Columbia County neighbors the city of Augusta, 2 hours East of Atlanta and 3 hours Northwest of Savannah.
Columbia County was first created on December 10, 1790. Over the next century or so, land was exchanged between neighboring counties, including Richmond, McDuffie, and Warren, to form what we now know as Columbia County's boundaries.
From Left to Right: Jedidiah Morse's Map of Georgia, 1796; Map of Georgia and Alabama by H.S. Tanner, 1823; Hugdin's Map of Georgia, 1915
During the late 1700's and early 1800's, the northeast corner of Columbia County near Keg Creek was a very popular location to catch the ferry from South Carolina to Georgia. The road from the ferry led south to the village of Appling and was owned by Samuel C. Scott; this roadway is now known as Scotts Ferry Road, or Highway 221. The construction of a dam and lake has since flooded the site of the historic ferry landing.
The Corps of Engineers was authorized to investigate development on various streams throughout the nation for navigation, flood control, irrigation, and power development by the 1927 Rivers and Harbors Act. In May of 1933, the Savannah District Engineer authored a report for the entire Savannah River Basin that did not support US Government flood control projects along the river, but it did recommend two sites for potential future power dam locations in the upper Savannah River basin: Clark Hill and Hartwell.
The Clark Hill project, including a multipurpose dam and reservoir, was authorized in 1944. Contracts for construction at Clark Hill began August of 1946; however, preliminary work was stopped by President Truman's order as a result of the suffering economy post World War II. By November of 1947, a contract for the production of concrete from local granite to be used in the dam was awarded. The first round of concrete was poured in October of 1948 after the cofferdam, to block the water and create a dry construction site, was built on the Georgia side of the Savannah River.
By May of 1949, initial construction of the spillway had been completed, and the second cofferdam was built. With the second cofferdam blocking the flow of the river from the South Carolina side, water was returned to its original flow route through the Georgia side spillway. Due to a fault in the bedrock of the river and the nationwide steel strike in the fall of 1949, continued construction of the main dam was delayed until January of 1950. The intake section of the dam, which would serve as the water source for the powerhouse, was nearly completed by November 1950, just one month after the powerhouse contract was awarded.
July of 1951 marked the completion of the spillway crest and began the construction of raising the concrete piers for the gate installations. One year later, in July of 1952, the powerhouse was a little over half way complete, and the first generating unit was in operation five months later. The very first volt of electrical power shocked South Carolina's power grid in January of 1953. A half dozen other units were completed by July of 1954.
Eleven years after authorization, and 43.2 million dollars (nearly $78.5 million was spent in total) over the original estimated cost, the dam was complete. It was not until December of 1987 that the United States congress renamed the dam, its highway atop it, and the reservoir upstream from it from Clarks Hill to the J. Strom Thurmond Dam, Highway, and Reservior.
The Dam may have eliminated the need for a ferry crossing of the river by allowing automobiles safe passage across it, but it did not erase the memory of travelers once anxiously awaiting to dock on Columbia County's banks. Just as those eager settlers journeyed from North to South during our County's beginning, let us take you on a journey of your own through our rich history that they helped create.
Appling: The Historic Country Seat
Previously centered in the heart of Columbia County, Appling is the official county seat. The Town of Appling was chartered in 1816 but lost its designation nearly 180 years later in 1995. It is home to the historic Appling Courthouse which is still in use to this day.
Built in 1854 on land sold to the county by William Appling, it is the oldest courthouse still in use in the state. The original indenture from 1792 can be viewed here.
Here you can find one of the many Georgia Historical Commission markers in the county that details our origins.
Located directly across the street from the courthouse is the Old Jail. Rich with character and significance, this building now hosts our very own local Historical Society's office. Meetings are held here every second Monday of the month.