The man who used stone to create a lasting monument to a bygone school now has his name etched in stone to commemorate his creation.
A group of area history buffs and the family of Harry B. Hennis will gather at 10 a.m. Thursday to dedicate a stone marker bearing Hennis' name and recognizing him as the builder of the stone pillars and arch that adorned the Evans campus for nearly 80 years.
The pillars and arch now stand at the Memorial Gardens behind the Columbia County Library on Evans to Locks Road. They once embellished the campus of the Evans Consolidated School at the corner of Belair and Washington roads and are all that remain of the original schoolhouse, which burned down on Oct. 11, 1955.
A new school was built on the site, and as the decades rolled by it became the campus of Evans High School, then Evans Junior High and finally Evans Middle School. The middle school moved to Hereford Farm Road in 2006, and the land was sold to commercial developers.
But some residents, unwilling to part with the remnants of the old schoolhouse, formed The Save the Pillars Committee and raised funds and volunteers to move them to the Memorial Gardens, where the dedication to Hennis will be held.
"Over time, the arch and pillars were always there, but somewhat forgotten about," said Hennis' great-grandson Dwight Johnson. "With so much influx (of newcomers) over the years, many didn't know what they were about, so we wanted to preserve that history."
Rosemary "Peaches" Tiller, Johnson's grandmother and Hennis' daughter; state Sen. Bill Jackson; and Hubert Anderson, who as a 12-year-old borrowed his father's truck to find suitable rocks for Hennis, also were part of the effort to save the pillars.
Jackson and Johnson worked to get the stone marker placed near the pillars and arch for Thursday, which is Hennis' birthday.
The marker, Jackson said, serves the dual purpose of remembering Hennis and reminding visitors why the pillars and arch are important.
"We need to let people know why the columns are sitting there," he said. "A lot of people walk by them with no idea why they're there.
"There will be a picture of the school on the marker, and it will tell people when the school was built and opened, and that these columns were built by Mr. Harry Hennis."
Hennis learned to work with stone in Oklahoma, after traveling there with a tribe of Cherokee Indians, said Johnson.
After a stint in Ohio, Hennis moved to Columbia County in the 1920s at the urging of his new bride, Stella, who was seeking a warmer climate.
His stonemasonry skills impressed area residents, said Johnson, and Hennis was commissioned in the 1920s to build the stone pillars and arch.
Hennis also helped build the school's teacher dormitory, which now is the site of the store Strictly Country.
"Back then, the men were jacks of all trades," Johnson said. "He laid stone, built houses and also directed traffic for the school."
Hennis was directing traffic on Oct. 4, 1956, when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died just shy of his 75th birthday.
Johnson said he never knew his great-grandfather but learned all about him from Stella, who lived with his family when he was a boy.
"From what I've been told, he was a humble man," Johnson said of Hennis. "I don't think he would want to be in the limelight. He was just a man of strong character."
Still, Johnson said he believes strongly in telling his ancestor's story.
"If you look back at a lot of old Evans High School annuals you'll see seniors would climb on top of the arch and have their pictures done without even knowing what the reason or meaning behind it was," Johnson said. "We need to be reminded of our history, to celebrate it."
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