Monthly Archives: September 2019

Scary Good Show


Photos courtesy of Steven Brzozowski

A Harlem man brews up spine-tingling, spook-tacular fun for Halloween.
When some people decorate for Halloween, they carve a jack o’ lantern, put it on the front porch and call it good.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. For the past 13 years, however, Harlem resident Steven Brzozowski has decorated his yard in Shady Grove subdivision with Halloween decorations that are scary good. With help from his neighbor, Chad Hurley, he starts decorating in mid-September.

“When we first started, it was a two-week process,” says Steven. “Now it takes us a good six weeks, and we work all the way up until the day before Halloween. We do a walk-through the night before.”

Halloween Scenes
The Halloween scenes include a cemetery, a clown midway and a Texas Chain Saw Massacre display, and the holiday has become a family affair. Steven’s wife, Melissa, arranges creepy dolls in the carport, and his brother-in-law, Mike Chandler, dresses up like a crotchety old swamp creature.

“We set up a projector and show scary movies on a portable screen while people wait,” says Steven.

Typically, the Brzozowskis have 200 to 300 people in their yard at a time, and Steven estimates that 2,500 people came to see the Halloween decorations last year.

“It’s a maze of displays,” he says. “At the peak, it’s just gridlock.”

A lot of the same people come back year after year, but new people come each Halloween as well.

“I just want kids to have fun. It’s a safe place for them to come,” Steven says. “People come through three and four times. There’s so much to see. They have to come through more than once to see all the details.”

His friend, Benjamin Hill, boils peanuts on Halloween night for visitors – last year they gave out 270 pounds of the peanuts, stopping only when they ran out about 8 p.m. – and Benjamin’s wife, Amanda, helps them give out candy. A year ago they doled out 80 pounds of candy to trick-or-treaters.

Steven enjoys the crowds, but with repeat visitors every year, he definitely feels pressure to meet – or exceed – their expectations. He changes the displays every year, and of course, he always tries to outdo himself.

“I like to shake things up and do something different, but it’s a double-edged sword,” says Steven. “I have to step it up every year to keep it interesting for everybody. The problem now is you can’t stop. Everybody expects it.”

This year Steven will continue a new tradition that he started a year ago and hold a food drive for Harlem Baptist Church. “Last year we collected 100 to 120 pounds of canned goods,” he says.

Spooky Atmosphere
Steven makes many Halloween decorations out of old scraps, using liquid latex, dyes and paints to create his props. He also builds things with palettes and buys medical skeletons online. He gets ideas from Pinterest, scary movies and theme parks.

“Sometimes I lie in bed and things just pop into my brain,” Steven says. “I go to haunted houses to get ideas, but I put my own spin on them. It comes together mostly out of trial and error.”

Of course, creating the right atmosphere is as important as having bone-chilling props. On Halloween night, Steven uses lighting that changes colors, strobe lights, a fog machine and scary music to create a spooky mood.

His wife and their daughter, Madison, dress up in costume, but Steven wears a Halloween-themed suit on the big night.

“I like to walk around and make sure everything is running smoothly,” he says. “It’s good to have people that enjoy it with me. I like to get people’s opinions, and I eavesdrop on people to hear what they have to say.”

His favorite display is the clown section, where Chad dresses up like a scary clown and walks around with a big plastic hammer. People enter a tunnel through a giant clown face and battle through hanging pool noodles to get to the area.

“I have 10 or 12 clown props, and I’m adding more this year,” says Steven.

Halloween Neighborhood
Shady Grove has long-standing Halloween traditions. In fact, when they first looked at the house, Steven says, “Our Realtor said, ‘I hope you like Halloween because this is a Halloween neighborhood.’”

Police officers block off the entrance to the subdivision to vehicle traffic on Halloween. Three or four other families on the street also set up lots of decorations, and almost all of the neighbors give out candy.

Anticipation is half the fun, however, and Steven does his part to build up excitement for Halloween night.

“People ask me questions when I’m setting up,” he says. “When the school bus comes by the house, all of the kids stand up and press their faces to the glass.”

Once the holiday is over and the last box of decorations has been put away, Stevens says, “I’m done. I don’t want to talk about Halloween.”

However, he hopes the children who come to his house on Halloween remember it for years to come.

“I just enjoy doing it so people will have a fun Halloween,” says Steven. “I do it for the kids so they’ll remember it when they grow up. I want the kids to have a memory when they have kids of their own.”

By Sarah James

Picking on Pumpkins


Lots of people love Halloween, but National Pumpkin Destruction Day is a smashing idea as well.
There’s a fun way to get rid of all the Halloween candy around the house once the holiday has ended – eat it. And now there is an ingenious way to dispose of your lovingly carved jack-o’-lanterns or your plain old pumpkins as well. It’s called National Pumpkin Destruction Day.

The first Saturday after Halloween has been designated National Pumpkin Destruction Day by no less of an authority than Chase’s Calendar of Events, the go-to reference guide on all special events, holidays, federal and state anniversaries, historical milestones and more that are celebrated worldwide.

And National Pumpkin Destruction Day got its humble beginnings at The Rock Ranch, founded in The Rock, Georgia by the late S. Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A fame.

‘Smash It, Don’t Trash It’
The event started in 2007, the second year of the property’s efforts to promote agritourism, after hundreds of the ranch’s pumpkins did not sell before Halloween. The concept was the brainchild of Adam Pugh, senior director of operations and marketing at The Rock Ranch.

“We’re all about good stewardship and taking care of the land, and we thought it would be a good way to recycle pumpkins,” says Pugh. “We were going to compost the pumpkins and see if the cows would eat them. Before we compost them, we have to smash them up anyway.”

So why not get a little creative with the process and invite people to share in the fun?

After Pugh talked things over with Jeff Manley, the general manager, The Rock Ranch held the inaugural event the Saturday after Halloween.

They initially came up with several inventive ways to destroy pumpkins. Smash them to smithereens with a giant mallet – check. Pulverize them with a vibratory packer – check. Flatten them with a steam roller – check. Knock them to bits in a game of pumpkin bowling – check. Drop them from a 40-foot lift crane and watch them splatter on the ground – check.

“There are a whole lot of fun ways to pick on pumpkins,” say Pugh.

Their ingenuity has grown through the years, and The Rock Ranch has expanded its repertoire to about 15 ways to smash pumpkins. Now, they also take pumpkins up in an airplane and bomb an old tour bus with them. They blow them up into an explosion of orange; they shoot them from a cannon that propels them for half a mile – and then shoots out candy for children to scoop up at the end of each blast. They put them atop junk cars and ride over them with professional monster trucks. Or people can puncture them with darts or arrows in spirited rounds of pumpkin darts or pumpkin archery. Many of the pumpkin-smashing activities take place all day long, but some of the demolition takes place during scheduled events.

At the end of the day, ranch personnel scoop up the smashed pumpkins with tractors and feed them to the cattle or compost them into fertile soil.

“We encourage people to bring their own pumpkins, and we gather them up from area pumpkin patches,” Pugh says. “Smash it; don’t trash it.”

In other games, children can reach into a receptacle and see what they pull out – a handful of candy or a handful of pumpkin guts. For $6 per person, visitors also can ride in a monster truck.

Making Memories
Last year the ranch pulverized more than 6,500 pumpkins, and more than a dozen places in the United States and Canada now celebrate National Pumpkin Destruction Day as well.

“I hope in the next 10 to 15 years, it becomes what you do with your pumpkin,” says Pugh.

However, pumpkin smashing isn’t the only attraction at the 1,500-acre working cattle ranch. Others include cow-a-bunga zip lines, a carousel, a locomotive train, Tiny Town, a giant jumping pillow, tractor wagon rides, a corn maze, pony rides, Farm Land animal zoo, a corn bin, a cow train, pedal carts, gemstone mining, cane pole fishing, a rock climbing wall and family tug-of war. The Rock Museum, which houses more than 5,000 Georgia gems and minerals and a fossil dig station, also is available for exploring.

The ranch, which grows fresh produce, is dedicated to “Growing Healthy Families” as well.

“We want people to get outside, be healthy and make memories. We trick them into exercising,” says Pugh. “We try to make a positive impact with everything we do and use our property to benefit as many people as we can. Hopefully, when they leave, they’ll be happier than when they got here. The Rock Ranch is a neat experience for families that want to escape for a day.”

For overnight stays guests can reserve a limited number of Farm Stay houses or Conestoga wagons to sleep pioneer-style.

If You Go:
What: Pumpkin Destruction Day

When: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturday, November 2

Where: The Rock Ranch, 5020 Highway 36, The Rock, Georgia

How Much: $22.24 general admission; $20.01 per person for groups of 25 or more

More Info: (706) 647-6374 or

By Morgan Davis

Photos courtesy of The Rock Ranch

Pumpkin Spice Latte

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup hot black coffee
  • Whipped cream

Place milk, pumpkin purée, maple syrup, spice and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Whisk together constantly over medium heat until heated through. Stir in hot coffee until well blended. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream. Garnish with a light sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice. Makes 2-3 servings.

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By the Numbers

What's New 2019

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated population in Columbia County was 154,291 in 2018 and151,579 in 2017. In Grovetown, the estimated population in 2018 was 14,473 and 14,109 in 2017. The estimated population of Harlem was 3,277 in 2018 and 3,143 in 2017.

Johnson says the expansion of residential areas is continuing its westward direction, adhering to Vision 2035, the county’s comprehensive plan for growth and development that was adopted in 2016. The plan is slated for revision every five years, with the first potential changes coming in 2021.

“We’ve been following the plan,” says Johnson. “We got a lot of community input for the plan, and the commissioners use it as a guide when they’re making decisions about rezoning.”

From August 15, 2018 through August 15, 2019, Columbia County issued 789 residential building permits and 126 commercial building permits. From August 1, 2017 through August 15, 2018, the county issued 970 residential building permits and 139 commercial building permits.

Johnson attributes the decline in the number of permits issued to the weather. “At the end of last year, we saw one of the wettest winters we’ve had in some time,” he says. “A lot of the land we’re dealing with in Columbia County is red clay, and the wet weather put developers behind a little bit. We’re comfortable with the pace of growth, but developers had a tough time at the beginning of the year.”

Single-family homes are under construction in neighborhoods such as Whispering Pines off of William Few Parkway and Bell Tower off of Hardy McManus Road, and townhomes are being built at Avenel Place off of Furys Ferry Road. In Riverwood, the final phase of Mitchell Park is under construction, and new homes are available in Chatsworth and The Colonades.

In addition, says Johnson, “Grovetown has gotten a lot of attention. About 80 percent of our single-family permits were located within a 5-mile radius of Lewiston and Columbia roads.”

He also says that plans for eight subdivisions, which include additional phases of existing neighborhoods, are under review.

From August 2018 to August 2019, Grovetown issued 345 permits for new residential construction and 11 permits for new commercial construction. From August 2017 through August 2018, Grovetown issued 250 residential building permits and three commercial building permits.

Construction continues in neighborhoods such as Caroleton and Brighton Landing, where land has been cleared for a 14-building apartment complex. The neighborhood also includes single-family homes and townhouses. Highland Hills, which features 80 apartments, is nearing completion at George and Bennett streets, and construction is almost complete at Joiner Crossing, a community of 83 townhomes on Katherine Street. Both of these complexes are located on former mobile home sites.

“We are working really hard to respect the generation that has grown up here and remembers Grovetown as a one-stoplight town, while also making it welcoming to newcomers that have come here with young children and more disposal income,” says John Waller, the city administrator. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot, but it’s a juggling act

He expects the cyber and healthcare industries, as well as Fort Gordon, to continue to attract people to Grovetown.

“It’s hard to tie specific growth to Fort Gordon, but the growth keeps happening,” says Waller. “We still have a lot of folks that commute to SRS, and anecdotally, we hear that people continue to come here for the Columbia County school system.”

From August 15, 2018 through August 15, 2019, Harlem issued 55 permits for new residential construction and two permits for commercial construction. From August 1, 2017 through August 15, 2018, Harlem issued 102 residential building permits and five commercial building permits.

“We lost several months of permits due to inventory shortages while waiting for new subdivisions to be approved. We anticipate issuing 110 permits between now and the end of the year,” says Brett Cook, the city manager.

However, Section III of Cornerstone and Phase II of West Forrest in Harlem have opened. In addition, the first eight building permits for Amesbury, a community of 95 townhomes on Louisville Road, were issued in August.

Lionel Prather, principal of the Prather Company, says 90 residential lots in Greenpoint, a mixed-used development on Appling Harlem Road that will include 600 homes, would be completed in September. “The homes will be under construction in November and December, and 25 houses should be available by the first quarter of next year for the spring market,” he says.

According to Cook, the development ultimately will be annexed into the Harlem city limits. “We’ve been planning our growth that direction,” he says.

In addition, Prather says four apartments in downtown Harlem above the Masonic Lodge, which his father renovated, have been leased.

“We’re all fired up about Harlem,” he says.

To accommodate growth, bids went out this fall to expand Harlem’s wastewater treatment plant, which will triple in size, and construction is expected to begin in 2020.

“We all know what the growth is here, but the people outside the region don’t,” says Cook. “They operate on historical trends.”

He expects to see more interest in Harlem, which will celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary next year, from outside interests once the 2020 U.S. Census is released. However, he says, the community still needs to balance the needs of longtime residents with those of newcomers to the area.

“For us, the main focus is to let Harlem’s uniqueness survive the growth so you’ll always know you’re in Harlem whether the population is 1,500 or 17,000,” says Cook.

All Business

What's New 2019

Residential construction is not the only type of construction that is underway in Columbia County, however.

“Any time you have an influx of rooftops, you’re going to have an influx of retail and restaurants that follow it,” says Johnson.

Last year the county received more than 450 applications for new businesses, he says. Of those businesses, 202 were home-based, 193 were mobile and 169 were commercial entities.

Although the county attracts its “fair share of big box businesses,” Johnson says, “We also try to be business friendly for small businesses.”

The Gateway area in Grovetown continues to thrive with the construction of new shopping centers and businesses. New establishments at The Mill range from Peppy Poppy Boutique & Gifts to TL Nails.

Avid Hotel, which is under construction on Husk Box Way in the Gateway area, is expected to be finished by the end of the year. Classic Collision of Grovetown, which provides auto body repairs, is under construction on William Few Parkway.

Evans also continues to bring in a variety of new businesses.

First Community Bank has a new office at the corner of North Belair Road and Town Park Lane. The 3,100-square-foot office will anchor a 7,100-square-foot multi-tenant development that also could include a restaurant and a retail store.

The Legacy, a three-story, 20,691-square-foot building, also is under construction on North Belair Road. The building will accommodate a restaurant and retail and high-end office space.

New salons such as Hairitage Studio and Salon as well as Primp and Blow also have opened in Evans. In Focus Church in Evans is undergoing a major expansion, and ReMax has opened its new office on Evans to Locks Road. Elegant Bridals and Simon’s Formal Wear are expected to open soon on River Watch Parkway.

Motorists might catch a glimpse of vehicles from mobile companies ranging from Puppers Grooming, a mobile dog spa, to MEGAH (Martinez, Evans, Grovetown, Appling, Harlem) Pressure Washing.

Commercial construction is coming to Brighton Landing in Grovetown, and some city properties have seen improvements as well. The fire department portion of the public safety building on Robinson Avenue has been renovated, and the new wastewater treatment plant is expected to be operational in the late spring.

An SRP Federal Credit Union will open on West Robinson Avenue shortly, and Waller expects more new businesses to open on the large tract of land next to the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Wrightsboro Road in 2020.

“Clearing has started on land for six different parcels for lease or sale to new businesses,” he says.

A variety of new businesses are opening, or relocating, in downtown Harlem as well. Hippy Chick Boutique & Gifts moved to a location on North Louisville Road last fall. Hydra Shark, which specializes in hydrostatic testing and scuba repair, held a grand opening at its New Street location in August.

A new First State Bank location also is coming to Harlem on Milledgeville Road by the public safety building.

“We’ve been able to make a lot of improvements in downtown Harlem, and people are excited about that,” Cook says. “It benefits the community. It’s bringing the town back to life. Harlem once was the economic capital of Columbia County.”

Club Car also has moved some of its operations to White Oak Business Park on Appling Harlem Road, and Prather says a Sprint Food Store will be under construction in Greenpoint by the end of the year. The 6,000-square-foot convenience store will be located on a 2.5-acre lot at the intersection of Appling Harlem and Wrightsboro roads.

The Doctor is In

What's New 2019

New medical facilities continue to come to the Furys Ferry Road corridor in Martinez. University Medical Center – Furys Ferry, a prompt and primary care facility that is part of the University Health Care System, opened in August. Staffed with two primary care physicians, the facility offers care for non-life-threatening conditions. Thrive Senior Living, which provides assisted living and memory care services, also opened on Furys Ferry Road this summer.

Augusta University Furys Ferry Care Center held a grand opening in December. The 6,450-square-foot ambulatory care facility, one of three AU Health facilities in Columbia County, provides primary care and cardiovascular services. Another AU Health facility also is under construction by Duckworth Development in Grovetown on West Robinson Avenue. This facility should open in late 2019 or early 2020.

Two new CBD establishments, CBD Central and CBD Store, have opened in the Gateway area in Grovetown to sell cannabidiol products.

In Evans, Larson Chiropractic moved to a new location in Mullins Colony this summer, and Riverwood Dental Care opened a new facility on Washington Road earlier this year. To care for four-legged patients, Greenbrier Veterinary Services moved to a new building on General Wood Parkway this summer.

Augusta Animal Emergency, which offers 24/7 emergency care for sick or injured pets, held a groundbreaking ceremony in September for a new 12,000-square-foot building on River Shoals Parkway, near Costco and Topgolf, which is coming to the area. The clinic, which will be renamed Augusta Animal Emergency and Specialty Center, is expected to move from its current location on Hudson Trace in March. Future plans include increasing the size of the new building by 9,000 – 10,000 square feet in several years.

Doctors Hospital began work on a $75 million expansion of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in April. The project, which is expected to be complete in the summer of 2020, is the largest investment in the Doctors Hospital campus since it opened in 1973. In August the hospital also opened its Maternal Fetal Medicine Center to serve women with high-risk pregnancies.

With a ribbon cutting in July, the family-owned Harlem Pharmacy opened its doors in the former Harlem Woman’s Club building on Milledgeville Road.

“The city bought the property, which was originally owned by the Woman’s Club, to try to recruit a pharmacy,” says Cook.

Harlem Family Dental also is coming to the downtown area, opening up shop in two-thirds of the former Masonic building on North Louisville Road.

Class Act

What's New 2019

While business opportunities and access to medical care draw people to the area, the Columbia County school system, the 15th largest in the state, continues to drive growth in Columbia County as well.

The school district had an enrollment of 28,050 students at the end of August. Although projected growth was 579 students for 2019-20, in late August the school district had grown by 535 students. However, Sandra Carraway, superintendent of schools, says the school system will continue to enroll more students this fall.

“We hired 56 more teachers for the school system this year. These are new positions to help accommodate our growth,” Carraway says.

The growth in the student population has driven a need for new or updated schools, and the new North Harlem Elementary School building on Fairview Drive opened in August for the 2019-20 academic year. “We opened the school with 760 students, which was more than we projected,” says Carraway. “It was built to hold 950 students.”

Columbia County residents can expect to see more schools under construction in the coming years. In March, voters approved a referendum to issue $160 million in general obligation bonds and a 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for educational purposes for 2022 – 2027 for capital outlay projects.

The ESPLOST projects include a new high school campus in a centralized location, up to three new elementary schools, two new middle schools, athletic field renovations, bus purchases and technology upgrades. The school district will present proposals for new construction projects to the Board of Education this month.

Carraway calls the new high school and a new elementary or middle school the top priorities. “We would like to build additions to three middle schools in our highest growth areas as well,” she says.

The new high school would draw students from all five county high schools for classes in areas such as cyber, engineering and energy. Because the school district already owns the sites of the former Evans Elementary and Belair Elementary schools, Carraway says one of these properties would be an ideal location for the new high school campus.

To expand its administrative space, the school district recently purchased the vacant Greenfield Industries building on River Watch Parkway for $4 million with monies from its general fund. This building will house the district’s Facilities and Maintenance Operations, Transportation and Technology departments, a warehouse and space for employee training.

“We will begin immediately to add a transportation department facility in one of the wings of the building. We will do new construction inside the building and some site work outside,” says Carraway.

However, she says it may be next year before the district can begin using the building.

The Facilities and Maintenance and Transportation departments currently are located in the old Columbia Middle School building, but Carraway says this location on Columbia Road could be the site of a new elementary or middle school.

A new Cyber Center of Excellence also is coming to Fort Gordon, where a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was held in March. The Cyber Center of Excellence is responsible for the training, education and development of highly skilled signal, cyber and electronic warfare professionals that support military operations at the strategic, operational and tactical level.