Town of 'good neighbors'

Leah's visitors find fishermen, friends

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The soothing chirps of crickets blend with the hum of a bait tank's swimming pool pump at Pair of Jacks, where Stacy Sullivan sits in the back, reading his newspaper.

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Corey Perrine/Staff
Seven-year-old Patients Hadden, the daughter of caregiver Sharon Guy, looks at the photos of Edith Reese’s family on Reese’s mantle in Leah. At 104 years old, Reese is believed to be the oldest person in the unincorporated town near Augusta.

Sullivan, a regular at the convenience, bait and tackle store, thumbs the pages, as workers chatter in cheerful country twang.

The store's motto: "If we don't have it, you don't need it."

One by one, regulars stop in as cars whoosh by -- most carrying fishermen to the lake. Sandi Hayes, who owns the shop with husband Jack, announces the arrivals: "That's Dwayne. ... And here comes Michael."

It's a spot that many call the hub of a community rich in history that will be visited often this summer for its close proximity to Thurmond Lake in northern Columbia County.

But few visitors know much about it.

"They hear you say Leah, and they say 'where?' " Sandi Hayes said of people's typical reaction.

Leah -- a place with "country folks," as Sullivan puts it -- has had its name since 1891, when it first showed up in a federal document naming a new post office there. The name was submitted by a long-forgotten Confederate veteran named Caesar S. Bond, Columbia County historian Charles Lord said.

"That was the hotbed of political activity," said Lord, referring to an era that lasted from the late 1800s until the 1980s.

The area had connections to many of the county's past leaders, including longtime Columbia County school superintendent John Pierce Blanchard, and it once had its own high school off Ray Owens Road near Washington Road, called Leah High School.

The school closed decades ago, and today a downed concrete arch is among its few remnants, alongside a construction site for a new fire station that will incorporate the arch and house a museum room remembering the old school.

There's more than one story about how Leah got its name.

One is that each letter in the name stands for a prominent family that had deep roots to the area.

"L stood for the Lampkins, E for Eubanks, A for Avery and H for Hardins," Lord said.

"We had also heard it's from the Bible," Jack Hayes said.

Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Capt. Chris Wahman, who helps man the fire station under construction at the old Leah school site, said he read a Columbia County history book that connected the name to a landowner who had property near what today is the Fort Gordon Recreation Area.

"Leah was the plantation owner's daughter's name," he said.

In those days, much of the land was cotton fields. And a site off Ridge Road just a short drive down from the new Ray Owens Road fire station bears the rusty remnants of an old steam cotton gin.

Near the old school site, a brick chimney being strangled by kudzu is a reminder of a teacher's cottage that existed across the street. Brick steps that once led to the front porch must be dug out from the thick greenery.

Many who live in Leah say they moved there because of the country atmosphere. But through the years, development has crept north from Evans and Martinez.

"It's moving this way," Jack Hayes said.

Through the years, the Leah name has diminished as the Leah school went away and a volunteer Leah Fire Department was consolidated with others.

Charles Hogan, the last fire chief of the department before it lost the Leah name, said he moved to the area from Augusta in 1984 to get off the beaten path.

"When we first moved up there ... it was a pretty good, tight community. Pretty much everybody knew everybody," he said.

He recalls community barbecues every Memorial Day weekend.

Some of that has gone away with the addition of new housing developments and a change in culture, he said.

"With the new growth, and people nowadays, we're a fast track crowd now. You want to go through the drive-through," he said.

Perhaps the best person to speak about Leah's past is Edith Reese, who many in the area say is Leah's oldest resident at 104. On a recent Thursday, Reese had just returned from the hospital to the home she's lived in since she was a child.

Part of the appeal of Leah, according to Reese: "Good neighbors."

She said one of the biggest changes she recalls was the paving of roads. She said the dirt roads had "ruts this deep," motioning to show a large gap between her hands.

Today, along those roads, just a few signs bear the name Leah. The area's mailing address is technically Appling, but Sandi Hayes said she always tells people her hometown is Leah.

"Just a large, loving family" is how she characterizes her community. "That's what I think of."

About the series

Ever wonder how a community comes to be called Leah, or Petticoat Junction, Boneville or Pinetucky? This summer, Augusta Chronicle reporters and photographers will visit those and other places and report on how they got their unusual names and what makes them special.

About Leah

The community in Columbia County has had its name since 1891, when it was listed in a federal document naming a new post office there.


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