Originally created 12/16/01

From 'Evens' to expansion



For a community whose name was misspelled by the federal government for 44 years, Evans has come a long way.

It is now the fastest-growing area of Columbia County, and the end of that growth is nowhere in sight.

Westward migration and growth along Washington Road boosted the population of unincorporated Evans 114 percent during the '90s, from 9,208 to 19,701.

The number of households grew from 2,608 to 6,489, according to Tim Young, a senior planner with the county's Planning and Development Department.

Evans also is one of the most affluent communities in the Augusta area. The annual median household income in 1997 was an estimated $59,720, up from $47,594 in 1990.

The growth and affluence is "mind-boggling" to some longtime residents, such as W.R. "Bill" Tiller, who played a major role in the development of Evans and other parts of the county.

On a recent drive around Evans, Mr. Tiller, 81, recalled landmarks, some long gone.

"This used to be farmland, and now look at it. CVS Pharmacy, movie theaters, Applebee's, University Hospital. My father wanted to build a hospital out here, but he couldn't put it together," he said, driving his 1979 blue Cadillac onto Belair Road.

Mr. Tiller's father, William Thomas Tiller, bought a house, a two-story dairy barn, outbuildings and 106 acres of farmland off Hereford Farm Road in Evans for $2,000 in the 1930s.

After his father's death in 1947, Bill Tiller bought the acreage on the south side of Hereford Farm Road, 90 acres in all, and began building houses. He built hundreds during the next four decades.

Today, residential lots sell for $22,000 an acre along the road.

That's a far cry from the cost of farmland in what used to be a country hamlet where "nothing happened" until after World War II, not even the paving of Washington Road, Mr. Tiller said.

Columbia County Commissioner Jim Whitehead said the county had only 9,000 residents when he moved there in 1964.

"The phenomenal growth of Columbia County has been good, and it's going to get better, because I don't see it turning around," said Mr. Whitehead, who represents the Evans area.

A measure of what the area was like before the war can be seen in its schools, according to Mr. Tiller.

"There were two high schools in Columbia County: Evans High and Harlem High, with graduating classes of eight to 10," he said. "Now they have to go to the (Augusta-Richmond County) Civic Center, and there are high schools all over."

The school system is a magnet, attracting people to Columbia County and Evans. SAT scores are consistently above the state average. Greenbrier High's baseball team was the 4-AAAA state champion in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and the Evans High School band has performed in London and New York.

Mr. Tiller attributes the success of the school system to former Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard.

"He built our school system, and I'm thankful to say I helped him in a lot of ways," he said.

Mr. Blanchard often asked Mr. Tiller how many houses he expected to build the next year, and the superintendent used the projected population increases to get more state money, Mr. Tiller said.

"I was building houses like mad, building and selling one a week," he said.

"There were several people that had foresight, but few that were sharp enough or had guts enough to see it through. But Jake Pollard Sr. was one. He was clerk of Superior Court in Columbia County, but he ran the county from that old courthouse up in Appling."

On Washington Road, cars whizzed by as Mr. Tiller slowed in front of a small, abandoned white house.

"That was the post office," he said. "My mother rented that building to the postal department for $15 a month. That's hard to believe today."

Evans' first post office opened Jan. 10, 1882, but the community was spelled "Evens" by the U.S. Post Office until Dec. 1, 1926, said Columbia County history buff Charles Lord.

After seeing the "Evens" spelling on U.S. postal records from the national archives in Washington, Mr. Lord located an article in an August 1926 edition of the Columbia County Sentinel newspaper noting the spelling. Three months after the article appeared, the post office officially changed the spelling to Evans, Mr. Lord said.

According to local lore, Evans was named for George Washington Evans, a businessman and mayor of Augusta. Mr. Evans married Emily Frances Alexander Berry, the widow of planter Benjamin Berry, and moved into her home, Cedar Grove, where he died in 1876.

The early central location of Evans was around the junction of then-Petersburg Road and the Augusta-Knoxville Railroad, where the general stores provided the foundation of the Evans community, Mr. Lord said.

Today, the center of growth in Evans is around Washington and Belair roads, Columbia County's medical mile. University Hospital built a 70-acre campus on Belair Road. Doctors Hospital has Columbia Medical Plaza on Washington West Drive and North Belair Road, and St. Joseph Hospital and University Hospital co-own Brandon Wilde, a 64-acre continuing-care retirement community at Owens and Washington roads.

The medical facilities, commercial and retail activity initiated the Evans Town Center concept, a 1 1/2 -mile area around Washington and Belair roads being developed as a community hub for Columbia County. The plan, approved by county ordinance last year, proposes a mix of commercial, recreational and government uses.

When the new courthouse annex and library are complete in Town Center, residents will have one-stop shopping.

"Court proceedings will be in Evans, along with all governmental records and offices. Evans will be the hub of Columbia County," Mr. Whitehead said.

The $13 million courthouse annex is almost complete, and construction should begin on the $8.3 million library in two years, he said.

Martha Beattie, the treasurer of the Country Place Homeowners Association, got involved with the plan in hopes it would save the Evans area from the heavy commercial development that dominates other areas of Washington Road.

But she has almost despaired over the number of fast food restaurants and other retail businesses that have sprung up in the past year.

"Washington Road west to Belair Road is nothing but honky tonk," she said.

Then construction began on a Wal-Mart Supercenter, only several hundred yards from Country Place. The store is scheduled to open in February.

"I have nothing against WalMart. We just didn't like the 24-hours and RVs parked," Ms. Beattie said. "You can imagine the traffic. And they're going to put in another gas station. I don't mind people making a living, but not at my expense."

The commission has tried through its growth-management plan to regulate growth in certain areas so it doesn't happen hodgepodge, Mr. Whitehead said.

"Evans is one of the areas that we've tried to develop, not only commercially but aesthetically," he said.

EVANS BY THE NUMBERS

The Evans area has been the fastest growing section of Columbia County for years. Here is a look at how some of the numbers stack up:

POPULATION:

EVANS:

1990: 9,208

2000: 19,701

Percent increase: 114

EVANS:

1990: $47,594

1997 (estimate): $59,720

COLUMBIA COUNTY:

1990: $40,122

1997 (estimate): $50,345

EVANS HOUSING UNITS:

1990: 2,608

2000: 6,489

Percent increase: 148.8

EVANS HOUSEHOLD SIZE:

1990: 3.53

2000: 3.04

Percent decrease: 13.9

EVANS ETHNIC MAKEUP:

Black: 9.10 percent

Hispanic: 1.3 percent

Asian: 3 percent

Source: Tim Young, senior planner, Columbia County Planning and Development

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.