Appling was formerly considered an incorporated city but, with the 1993 passage of legislation requiring incorporated cities to provide at least three municipal services, Appling was not able to maintain its status as an incorporated city. It was one of 187 inactive cities in Georgia that lost its charter on 1 June 1995. There was question as to whether it had ever been incorporated at all since it had no functioning corporate authorities.
Columbia County government and judicial offices are in Evans, Georgia with the Columbia County Government Center, the Government Complex Addition, and the Columbia County Courthouse Annex all located there. Appling retains its status as county seat but all governmental functions are carried out in Evans.
Appling lies along U.S. Route 221 (Appling-Harlem Road) and is traversed by (Great) Kiokee Creek.
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,177 people, 1,745 households, and 1,387 families residing in the area. There were 1,745 housing units in the area. The racial makeup of the area was 76.0% White, 21.5% African American, 0.6% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.5% from other races, and 0.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.1% of the population.
There were 1,745 households out of which 37.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 64.4% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 20.5% were non-families. 16.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.83 and the average family size was 3.20.
The population was spread out with 26.6% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 24.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37.3 years. For every 100 females there were 98.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.7 males.
The median income for a household in the community was $40,467, and the median income for a family was $53,207. Males had a median income of $38,929 versus $21,700 for females. The per capita income for the community was $20,893. About 4.9% of families and 5.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.5% of those under age 18 and 13.1% of those age 65 or over.
In the early 19th century, Appling was the political, educational, social, and religious center of Columbia County. Near Appling were located Mt. Carmel Academy and Columbia Institute. Mt. Carmel Academy was run by the famous Southern educator, Moses Waddel and it was here that John C. Calhoun and William H. Crawford were educated. Columbia Institute was started by a man pretending his last name was Bush who was actually Bushnell of revolutionary war submariner fame.
In the 1830s, when the Georgia Railroad was established, it was decided that to have the trains passing near Appling would disturb the proceeding of the court, so the railway that passed through the county from Atlanta to Augusta went well below Appling.
In 1855, the Courthouse in Appling received a major overhaul, and after the remodeling was complete in 1856, the building was in more or less its present form, a vernacular structure with Greek Revival and Italianate influences. Despite the extensive project, the shell of the 1809-1812 building was retained and the structure has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
Appling was nearly wiped off the map by a tornado in the 1870s and it never regained the prestige it had prior to the tornado and the Civil War. Although there was an effort to organize the municipality in the early 20th century, the corporation remained inactive. Appling lost its charter in 1995