Hephzibah proud of separate identity

Once known as Brothersville, the city of Hephzibah began as a mile-radius circle around the Baptist high school for which it was named.


"It's very quiet. Mostly older families live here," said Sally Bolineau, a retired educator who has lived since 1961 in what was the Methodist church parsonage, which was built in the mid-1890s.

Outside, a carriage block marks where travelers climbed down from horse-drawn buggies. The minister's home had faced the Baptist school, known to send its graduates straight into their junior year of college, but today it's the site of Hephzibah Elementary.

It's a "Koala-ty" school, the sign says.

Across Academy Street from the Bolineaus, Vivian McLelland has lived in the same house, a similar wood-framed home, since she was 6.

McLelland, 88, has a treasure from the early days of Hephzibah, a gold-leafed plate advertising "Bank of Hephzibah." It appears to have had some use.

"My daddy had it years and years ago," she said. "I would like to give it to the town."

McLelland left Hephzibah briefly to work in Savannah, but returned to care for her parents, eventually retiring from civilian work at nearby Fort Gordon.

"It's an old town. The people who settled here lived down in Burke County, but it was so sickly down there and it was healthier here," she said.

Most residents, McLelland included, have a ready answer to what must be a frequently-asked question.

"In her is my delight," she said is the meaning of Hephzibah, who was the wife of Hezekiah in the Bible.

In 1870, the name replaced Brothersville, which honored three brothers -- James, Augustus and Elisha Anderson -- who built the first homes near Hephzibah, according to the book Georgia Place-Names .

Though there still is no grocery store of any size for miles, residents comment that the town has changed somewhat.

"Used to be everybody knew everybody else," McLelland said. "Now," reading about the doings of Hephzibah residents in the newspaper, "I don't have any idea who they are or where their address is."

The geography of Hephzibah is different. Prior to voters' 1995 rejection of consolidating government with Augusta-Richmond County, Hephzibah annexed land all the way to the Burke County line and now occupies some 19 square miles of Richmond County.

"People are just moving in," to work at Fort Gordon, Savannah River Site and Plant Vogtle, McLelland said.

Dotted on the south side with new subdivisions, Hephzibah's population has grown, from about 3,800 in 2000 to 4,500 in 2008, according to the Census Bureau. But it appears much larger because of the number of addresses in the Hephzibah ZIP code.

The postal route, which reaches into Burke County, includes some 14,000 homes and businesses, Hephzibah Postmaster Scott Carpenter said.

Running another route last week was Ronnie Carter Sanitation -- a pickup with a tall wood box built on the back.

Carter and his son operate one of the homegrown waste haulers serving Richmond County's two municipalities that opted out of consolidation, and of using Augusta's sanitation service.

"Hephzibah and Blythe, they like to leave things just like it is," Carter said.

Hephzibah lost one of its primary historians recently with the death of Addison Lansdell, whose family built three stately mansions in the city.

"He would sit and tell all kinds of history," said Shelly Oglesby, a hairdresser who runs Kountry Cuts in a tiny strip mall by Hephzibah's only restaurant, Burger Shack.

"I like it because it's like family here," Oglesby said.

At Burger Shack, a father, son, grandsons and a cousin were the first of several to drop in for lunch Thursday.

"I wouldn't live nowhere else," said Jimmy Neville, a McBean native and retired laundry director at East Central Regional Hospital at Gracewood.

Neville, noting he "married into Hephzibah," said he drives to the Walmart in Waynesboro or to Augusta to shop.

"We call it going to town," said the cousin, Mark Woods. "We go into town to take care of business, then come back here and our blood pressure goes down."

Neville would definitely like to see a larger grocery in Hephzibah, and it might be coming.

"We'd be a lot bigger now if we'd had sewer," he said.

Installation of sewer lines at Georgia Highway 88 and Windsor Spring Road is in the works, and locals expect it to bring an IGA or possibly a Harvey's into Hephzibah.

An incoming drive-through Wife Saver is an exciting prospect for lifelong resident Betty Alley, 83, who laments the town's shortage of restaurants.

"I would like to see at least a small diner here for the old folks to go eat lunch, and I would like to see a good chain grocery store," she said.

Following Augusta government news, like many in Hephzibah, she does not regret voting against consolidation.

"I wouldn't want to be in that mess. I think that's the biggest-fool thing that ever happened to the county," said Alley, who retired from Fort Gordon.

But she recalls her commissioner Jimmy Smith's comment that he had to drive to Evans to buy socks.

"It's the truth -- you either go to Waynesboro shopping or to Bobby Jones, or Evans somewhere to shop at Target. I'd just as soon not have anything. I guess all the money goes to the TEE center."

While it might lack in retail, Hephzibah does provide water, police and fire protection, said native Frank Williams, who has served on the Hephzibah City Council since 1974.

And residents pay no property taxes for city government, he said.

"Only tax they have is a little sales tax that we get," Williams said. "They used to pay some kind of little tax and we cut all the taxes out and rolled it back to zero every year," he said.

About Hephzibah

THE NAME: Hephzibah got its name in 1870. Before that, it was known as Brothersville, which honored three brothers -- James, Augustus and Elisha Anderson -- who built the first homes near there, according to the book Georgia Place-Names.

WHAT IT MEANS: "In her is my delight." In the Bible, Hephzibah was the wife of Hezekiah.