Bill Jackson was happy to be a part of Columbia County history Thursday, helping move the pillars and arch at Evans Middle School that he once played near as a youngster.
While standing next to one of the more than 70-year-old pillars that he and his son, Bill Jackson Jr., were about to use a jackhammer on, Jackson Sr., a former state legislator whose business is the Tile Center, recalled the past and talked of how much things had changed since the rock creations were installed at the middle school site that will become a retail shopping center after this school year.
"That was a dirt road right there,'' Jackson said, pointing to the paved, four-lane Washington Road. After hearing about a bank robbery nearby on North Belair Road on Thursday, Jackson noted another stark difference in the county's changes since the pillars' creation.
"There were no bank robberies,'' he said. "Unless you were talking about Machine Gun Kelly in Chicago. We lived a lot quieter (in Columbia County).''
On Thursday, things were a little louder. A jackhammer was used on one of the several 8-foot-tall pillars to help loosen it from the ground so a souped-up forklift could attempt to pluck the nearly 15,000-pound pillar from the ground in front of Evans Middle. Then it would be delivered to its new home in the county's recently completed memorial gardens next to the new Evans library.
The work lasted until Friday, and the forklift turned out not to be enough muscle for the job. A crane was eventually called in, and one of the pillars was moved.
Jackson Sr. estimated that the arch could weigh more than 40,000 pounds and would be the trickiest to remove.
"That will be the last button on Abraham's shirt,'' Jackson Sr. said about the arch's removal.
Though one pillar has been uprooted and replanted at the park behind the library, there is no timetable on when the others might join it, said Mike Johnson, the principal of Evans Middle, which will move to a new site on Hereford Farm Road.
"Our immediate goal was to move at least one column by the end of April to get an idea of what was underneath the ground," he said. "We wanted to get an idea of what we were dealing with."
What they dealt with was a steel frame and a massive concrete block foundation at the base of the pillar.
"We'll meet again and try to determine when we'll get the rest of them out of the ground," Johnson said. "Hopefully, now that we have one done, we'll keep the momentum going."
The columns and arch were constructed with rocks that children picked up throughout the county for the original Evans Consolidated School.
"They picked them up in fields all around the county,'' Jackson Sr. said.
With such history behind the structures, Jackson Sr. said he's glad he's been a part of their preservation, no matter how laborious the task has been.
"We've all been under these columns all our lives,'' he said. "That's what we want to do - save them for history ... If we can make this work, we can do just about anything.''Staff Writer Donnie Fetter contributed to this story.
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