Walking into the woods behind the new fire station in Leah is like finding a modern version of Mayan ruins.
There's little traffic from the nearby roads to disturb the silence, broken only by crunching footfalls on a carpet of pine needles.
A few hundred feet from the fire station, hidden like anonymous headstones in a forgotten cemetery, are the concrete foundations of the gym that once was part of Leah High School.
A pair of steps, overgrown with wysteria vines, rise to a phantom entrance. Other than a few rotted boards, tumbled brick and broken bathroom fixtures, all that remains of the old school gym is a connect-the-dots outline slowly filling in with trees rising taller than thebuilding once stood.
Leah High School held its final commencement in 1949. The small comprehensive school continued through 10th grade until 1956, when the Columbia County school system abandoned the campus.
The school building and gym, by most accounts, were dismantled a little at a time and carted away. Nothing of the school building is visible at the site, though the gym's concrete foundation remains mostly intact.
The school system sold the site to the county last year for use as a fire station. Around that time, former state Rep. Bill Jackson was in the news working on the rescue of the stone pillars and arch that stood in front of the former Evans Middle School campus.
That triggered the curiosity of old-timers: Whatever happened to the arch from Leah High School?
Jackson went looking, and found the arch a little worse for wear. At some point, work crews knocked it over and pushed it to the side with a machine, breaking the poured-concrete arch near the top.
Like the surviving foundations of the gym, the arch bears wood-grain impressions from the boards used to mold the wet concrete. A medallion from the Depression-era Works Progress Administration reveals the arch was made just a decade before the school closed.
Decades later, Jackson is working with the county to restore the arch. It can no longer straddle the entrance to the property; it isn't big enough for a fire truck to pass through. But Jackson wants to stand it back upright and repair the broken concrete, perhaps creating a centerpiece for a small park or picnic area at the fire station.
But the most important outcome is the rescue of yet another of the county's vanishing relics before time erodes it from memory.
A footnote: The best treasure, personally, from the old school wasn't found on the site, but in a 1954 yearbook that alumn Nancy Beasley loaned us for a story. Carefully flipping through its brittle pages, I found among a class of ninth-graders a smiling photo of Janie Martin.
Signed "Love you, Janie," with blue fountain pen, the photo is among nine in Leah's ninth-grade class. And it's one I've never seen before - of my own late mother.
Seeing Mom, at roughly the same age as my own teen daughters, was the biggest day-brightener I've had in a long while.
Boost for Whitehead
Speaking of day-brighteners, Jim Whitehead had to be cheered when fellow state Sen. Ralph Hudgens dropped out of the race to fill the 10th District congressional seat of the late Charlie Norwood.
Whitehead was annointed the front-runner after Barry Fleming stepped aside to make him the only Columbia County Republican in the race.
Hudgens was the next biggest obstacle. But when Whitehead announced his campaign team, it certainly couldn't have cheered Hudgens: Whitehead's staffers have not only worked for Norwood, but also for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Hudgens backed Ralph Reed, who lost to Cagle in the 2006 GOP primary.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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