As one era ended, a new one began.
Saturday afternoon, as the mercury climbed to 100 degrees, workers and volunteers spent more than 10 hours digging up, hoisting, loading, moving and unloading the 52-ton stone arch from Evans Middle School to its new home behind the Columbia County Library.
The flatbed trailer hauling the landmark took some 30 minutes to travel barely half a mile. But getting there took nearly 80 years.
It was back in 1927 that stone mason Harry Hennis built the arch and seven stone pillars as part of the new Evans Consolidated School. Matching the look of the former Evans School across the street - a building that later became the teachers' cottage and now houses Strictly Country - Hennis used field stone from all over Columbia County to construct the exterior ornaments for the building.
Boys like Hubert Anderson traveled around the county collecting stones from the edges of farmers' fields. Hennis would then fit the rocks into wood forms and then set them with mortar.
He did a good job, obviously; the pillars were still standing, some 28 years later on Oct. 11, 1955, when a fire believed to have started in a coal stove after a recital burned to the ground a school that state school superintendent Fort E. Land had called the "most perfect school building not only in Georgia but in the South" during its dedication on Dec. 31, 1927.
The community rallied after the fire, with The Columbia News reporting the students missed just three days of classes. When the call went out for help in housing the school's 659 students, "The whole community responded with offers of private homes; government officials offered facilities, and the church buildings were placed at our disposal."
That spirit of cooperation continued when the school system built a new Evans school two years later. And now, with that site sold to developers and the school moving to a new campus, another effort was needed to find a home for the arch and pillars.
Enter the Save the Pillars Committee, headed by co-chairmen Bill Jackson and Jim Blanchard - two prominent men with deep roots. Working with volunteers united by their love for the old school, Jackson and Blanchard pulled together a plan to raise money to fund the move - and Jackson worked tirelessly to find a way to move them.
That was no easy task. The arch and pillars had been moved once before, about 15 years ago, to make way for the widening of Washington Road. At that time, Hennis' simple stone structures were mounted on underground foundations of concrete and steel that likely more than doubled their already enormous weight.
The heaviest was the arch. And it was the last to go, with Jackson keeping a watchful eye Saturday as crews from Robertson Grading and Paving, W.H. Reeves Construction and Augusta Crane and Rigging moved the landmark to its new home.
Perhaps the heaviest lifting of all, though, was the task of deciding where the structures would go. Before Jackson and Blanchard's committees began their work, the only consensus was that the structures must be moved. The options included multiple possible sites, with strong feelings about each.
For the committee to settle on one site, with such strong support rallying behind them, is as remarkable as the community coming together in 1955 to find temporary classrooms for all those students burned out of their school.
he move of the pillars and arch is bittersweet for Evans: The landmarks will no longer grace the community's major intersection. But in their new home behind the county's new library, the structures will long stand as a monument not just to a bygone era, but to a community's ability to unite for a common purpose.
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