Originally created 12/12/04

Residents proud to be Augustans



From Olde Towne to Laney-Walker, past the Hill and out to Southgate, Augusta is home to more than 195,000 people, all of whom have their own definition of what it means to be a resident.

It could be an affinity for golf, a nostalgia for downtown or a reverence for the railroad and the Savannah River.

"There is just a lot of little connections," said Billie Hunter, 72, who has called Augusta home all her life. "I'm a seventh-generation Augustan. I wouldn't go anywhere else."

Save for two years in Europe and a few out-of-town trips, she hasn't.

What has kept Mrs. Hunter here is a family legacy (her great-great-grandmother was a Warren, the family that provided the land for what is now Warren Baptist Church) and a familiarity with the people who helped build the city's foundation.

Mrs. Hunter knows that Village West is named after an Augusta-area family, not a direction; she remembers when Washington Road was a simple route lined with brick houses and a couple of stores and churches.

Yet the Augusta native can't quite put her finger on what makes an Augustan. Although she agrees it certainly is more than just having a zip code beginning with 3-0, everything else eludes her.

"I don't think I could say without some thought," Mrs. Hunter said.

She's not the only one who doesn't know how to qualify Augusta. Residents and historians alike have been battling that for years, said Erick Montgomery, of Historic Augusta, an organization that seeks to preserve the city's old architecture.

"We've often tried to identify that one thing (that's Augustan) and never been successful. I don't know you can pick one thing historically that can pinpoint Augusta," he said. "We've thought and thought and had a hard time coming up with that one thing."

It's all reminiscent of that similar question: What makes one Southern?

"People in Augusta are proud of their heritage; although I'm not always sure they totally understand it, they know it when they see it," Mr. Montgomery said.

Since its beginnings as a fur-trading post in 1736 and site of two Revolutionary War battles to being a center of commerce with the construction of the canal and a railroad (one of the first in Georgia), Augusta has flourished, said Gordon Blaker, the curator of the Augusta Museum of History.

Before becoming a golf mecca with the Augusta National's Masters Tournament, Augusta was Georgia's capital, home to the Confederacy's powderworks and the birthplace of great black institutions such as Morehouse and Paine colleges.

"There's lots of things historically," Mr. Gordon said. "Visitors and even locals are shocked by the amount of history. And residents definitely get their identity from it."

That presidents and legendary singers and actors called Augusta home is no secret, but rather adds to the layers of a city that once considered itself the "Lowell (Mass.) of the South," Mr. Gordon said, explaining that the textile industry in town was once a force to be reckoned with.

"Augusta has always been a more open, cosmopolitan town than some others," he said.

Mr. Montgomery had a similar summary.

"Augusta has always been a diverse city not only in terms of cultural background but in terms of economic strength, as well," he said.

"And people are proud of it. Since its founding, Augusta has been the center of a large region and the primary town people call home whether they actually live in town or not."

Susan Jackson is one of those people. Although she was born in Washington, Ga., and moved away for 10 years between the mid-1960s and -'70s, Mrs. Jackson said she's an Augustan.

"I love Augusta. I was raised in Augusta," she said. "It's the best place to be. And nothing is like going over the Calhoun Expressway and looking over into Augusta and saying, 'That's my hometown.'"

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.