COVINGTON, Ga. — Chairman Marcello Banes refused to let a little rain dampen his enthusiasm for the culminating event of Newton County’s Bicentennial year Saturday night.
“It’s a big day for Newton County to celebrate the Bicentennial,” he said.
“You don’t get to do that but one time and we’re excited about it. Like I said, ‘200 years behind us and one Newton ahead of us,’ so that’s what we’re looking for.
“We hope the citizens of this great county love the county they call home,” Banes said.
Saturday’s event, called the Bicentennial Birthday Bash, included a 15-minute fireworks show, classic rock and soul music from the Kollaboration band, and volunteers handing out free cupcakes, T-shirts, cups and more on the Covington Square.
It followed a year of county-sponsored events around the theme of Newton County’s 200th anniversary — or bicentennial — of its founding in December 1821.
A volunteer committee of representatives from governmental and business organizations, such as the Newton County School System and Chamber of Commerce, coordinated the events.
Volunteers assisted with roadside cleanup days in each of the five Newton County Board of Commissioners districts.
They also assisted with free showings of Newton County-filmed movies — such as “Selma” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2” — at Legion Field in which attendees received free popcorn and cotton candy.
Laura Sullivan, a Bicentennial Committee member, helped Santa Claus meet some young attendees at the event.
She also helped coordinate the closing of the Covington Square to traffic beforehand and helped make sure the fireworks show was done "safely and on time."
"It was such a sweet event," Sullivan said.
Sullivan, a lifelong Newton County resident, is the downtown coordinator for the Covington city government. She said she had only served as a Bicentennial Committee member since September following her hiring by the city.
"It was an honor to serve on the committee ... 200 years is a big deal," she said.
During the Birthday Bash, the six cities in Newton County either sent mayors, mayor pro-tems or city managers who presented history-related items that will be placed in a “time capsule” container and buried in the new Bicentennial Park adjacent to the Newton County Administration Building for future generations to open.
• Covington Mayor Steve Horton, who contributed a composite photo of all the city’s employees.
• Mansfield Mayor G.W. Davis Jr., who brought a list of county employees and map of Mansfield’s new city center area.
• Newborn Mayor Gregg Ellwanger, whose city contributed a child’s T-shirt bearing the likeness of the town’s historic schoolhouse.
• Oxford Mayor David Eady who contributed acorns from the historic Yarbrough Oak.
The white oak tree had famously been “deeded to itself” in 1929 and the city tended it for 73 years. Arborists estimated it was 180 years old before the city was forced to remove it in 2002. Porterdale City Manager Etheridge who brought a twine spool from the historic Osprey Mill. The mill was built in 1916 and was part of the Bibb Manufacturing Co. complex that employed thousands who lived in Porterdale in the mid-20th century.
• Social Circle Mayor ProTem Traysa Price who brought a replica of a ceremonial key to the city. that will be placed in a time capsule.
• Sheila Thomas of the Newton County School System who brought a T-shirt with a student-designed shirt celebrating the county’s 200th birthday.
In addition, Banes and County Manager Lloyd Kerr presented Bicentennial Awards to individuals and organizations chosen by the public.
They included the Non-Profit Award to We Ride to Provide, represented by Holly Cripps; the #OneNewton Award shared by Dr. Laklieshia Izzard and Jackie Smith; the Hometown Business Award to longtime Covington Square retailer Fletcher’s Jewelry Inc.; the Chairman’s Award to the Rev. James T. Walden Sr.; and the Bicentennial Award to Archie Shepherd.
Motorists were parked along area roadways to watch the fireworks show, though a steady rain likely kept attendance down for the in-person show and awards ceremonies, Banes said
However, some braved the elements to listen to the music, visit and take photos with Santa Claus, or walk around the Square to partake of the various giveaways before the 7 p.m. fireworks show.
Nancy Reckamp of Oxford reclined under a vinyl cover across from Mystic Grill restaurant and listened to music. She said she and husband Paul, who wore a T-shirt with the Bicentennial logo, had come to see the fireworks.
Eric and Traci Miller and Guinn Dillard sat on a bench in the park in the middle of the Square. They were visiting from Gadsden, Alabama, and knew about the yearlong Bicentennial celebration.
“We come over here a lot,” said Eric Miller. “There’s so much to do here.”
Dillard said she was impressed with Saturday’s event.
“I love the town so much,” she said. “It’s so beautiful.”
Morgan Alloy of Sarasota, Florida, said she and her friend were visiting Covington to take the tour of “Vampire Diaries” TV show locations.
The popular show was filmed in the city and she had come to the Square to see the clock tower. They also happened upon the celebration.
“We’re absolutely in love with this town. It’s beautiful,” Alloy said.
Banes noted he and Industrial Development Authority executive director Serra Hall and Newton County Chamber of Commerce president Debbie Harper had attended Gov. Brian Kemp’s Atlanta announcement of Rivian’s planned $5 billion electric vehicle manufacturing plant near Social Circle Thursday.
He said more projects are set to be announced in the coming year.
“We’re looking for great things in this community. It’s a great time to be celebrating. You celebrate Rivian, then you celebrate the Bicentennial,” Banes said.