By AL HACKLE
CLAXTON — Evans County residents gathered on their courthouse lawn Friday to celebrate the county’s 98th anniversary with hot dogs and birthday cake. Organizers used the event to build interest in planning for a 2014 centennial celebration.
Evans County was formed from portions of Bulloch and Tattnall counties, which had been in existence for more than a century when they gave up portions of their territory for several new counties. The Georgia General Assembly passed an amendment creating Evans County on Aug. 11, 1914. Local voters ratified the amendment on Nov. 3, 1914, but it’s the August date that has been traditionally observed for county birthday celebrations.
Allen Jones, who chairs the Evans County Centennial Celebration’s history subcommittee, says that the county’s four towns — Claxton, Hagan, Bellville and Daisy — all got their start from railroad construction around 1890. Although close to one another, the new towns were divided between two counties.
By 1914, residents wanted a county of their own, and Claxton became the county seat.
“One of the things I’ve read is that a lot of the people didn’t want to have to continue to go to Reidsville for county business and such, or to go to Statesboro,” Jones said. “They wanted a more centralized location.”
The county was named for Clement Anselm Evans, a Confederate brigadier general, Methodist minister, state senator and author who died in 1911.
Neighboring Candler County also was founded in 1914 from portions of Bulloch, Tattnall and Emanuel counties and named for Allen D. Candler, the former governor who died in 1910. As noted in the New Georgia Encyclopedia at www.georgiaencyclopedia.org, Allen Candler and Clement Evans together authored the original Georgia Cyclopedia, published in 1906.
Evans County’s history committee is one of eight focus committees recruited by a 10-member centennial steering committee appointed by the Evans County Board of Commissioners. Other committees are assigned education, business, religion, events, commemorative items, marketing and agriculture.
Beginning in 2011, the county is budgeting $10,000 each year for the committee’s work, which will build to a $40,000 cumulative budget in 2014, steering committee chairwoman Anna Parker said.
“We’ve just started putting everything together, deciding what we want to do, deciding what we are able to do with the money that we have,” she said. “Really our goal is just to get everybody interested by doing things like this each year, having the birthday celebration, and then hopefully having a really good crowd here at the courthouse in 2014.”
The courthouse-based celebration in August 2014 should culminate a series of celebrations that committee members hope will start early in the year. If all goes as hoped, there will be at least four other events.
“Each city has a liaison that is in charge of a celebration in that particular city, so Bellville, Hagan, Claxton and Daisy will have their own celebrations leading up to the big event in 2014, and we’re hoping that they’ll start those probably in March or April of that year,” Parker said.
Meanwhile, the souvenir and commemorative items committee is working on plans for items for sale to the public. A small wooden model of the courthouse is one suggestion favored by committee members. Another possibility is a commemorative Coca-Cola bottle, said Benny Wilkinson, the steering committee member assigned to this group.
Among other things, the history committee is thinking about either a temporary or permanent museum and an Evans County installment in the “Images of America” book series, said Jones and Dr. Curt Hames Jr., the steering committee’s history liaison.
“We’re looking at several different things, including maybe a time capsule, and we really want to do some video/audio taping of some of our older citizens telling us some of the things that happened way back when, so we can put that all together and then maybe put it in the library or even Georgia Southern’s library,” Hames said.
Tammi R. Hall, the executive director of the Claxton-Evans County Chamber of Commerce and a steering committee member, said the group will hold a series of meetings with focus committee chairmen to develop a general plan and budget by the end of the year.
“We’re still making a plea for volunteers to help with any of those areas,” she said.
Friday’s informal lunchtime event was attended by about 70 people from Evans County’s population of more than 11,000.