Though it’s an old county with plenty of history, Columbia County’s government hasn’t really had much weight to throw around until recently, and that means it lags behind neighboring Augusta in terms of putting that history on display. As a result, commissioners give us things like the $150,000 military memorial slated to go in behind the Evans library.
Paid for from leftover SPLOST money, the monument will commemorate the county’s war dead and honor the different service branches stationed at Fort Gordon.
Augusta suffers from a different problem entirely. It has so many monuments and memorials that they’ve become almost invisible. People drive by them or walk by them (or in some cases sit on them) without paying a whole lot of attention to what it is they’re honoring.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the Signers’ Monument in front of the Municipal Building. It’s the one that looks like the Washington Monument. Not only is it a monument honoring the three Georgians to sign the Declaration of Independence, it also happens to be the final resting place of two of them.
George Walton and Lyman Hall were exhumed and buried in crypts under the obelisk, right there in front of the Marble Palace. Button Gwinnett would be there, too, but apparently nobody was able to find his original grave.
The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1848, and for some years locals observed the event by holding a service at the site. But as one generation faded away the next one failed to step in, and eight or nine years ago that service disappeared.
Recently, however, the service has been revived…by a Delaware Justice of the Peace who hasn’t lived here for 20 years.
Kind of embarrassing, huh?
James Hanby, who serves the state of Delaware in a capacity roughly that of a magistrate judge, is a 1989 graduate of Hephzibah High School. He returns every year during the week of his birthday, which happens to be July 4, to visit his mother. Noticing that nothing was being done to commemorate the signers and their special contribution to our freedom, he started a small ceremony of his own three years ago.
That first humble event was attended by about ten people, six of whom were family members, but since then it has quietly grown into an impressive celebration. Last year, nearly 80 people attended, including Congressman John Barrow, who is scheduled to attend this Friday as well.
But really, shouldn’t we be ashamed that such a worthy endeavor needed to be spearheaded by a guy who hasn’t lived here since 1994? Shouldn’t it bother us that someone living in Delaware is looking out for the preservation of Augusta’s history and traditions?
“I think a lot of people sit around and say it’s a good idea, but either they don’t know how to go about it or they don’t want to take it on, but if somebody else does it, they’re willing to pitch in,” Hanby said. “But it’s that way with anything. Anybody that’s ever been in an organization knows that.”
That’s letting Augusta off the hook pretty easily, isn’t it? Though he’s happy for the help given by the American Legion, VFW, Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution, each of which will all have representatives in attendance, shouldn’t the idea to do it have occurred to someone actually living here?
In fact, last year he had to enlist the help of Commissioner Mary Davis just to make sure the flags were flying in front of the Municipal Building. On Independence Day.
This year, thanks to the additional help given by Judge James Blanchard, the Savannah River Brass Works will be there playing patriotic music, the Evans High School JROTC will present the colors and Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell will be speaking about George Walton. Along with Barrow, State Rep. Earnest Smith has also confirmed. Hanby has reached out to Mayor-elect Hardie Davis, the older brother of a former high school classmate, but Davis has yet to confirm. An assistant to Deke Copenhaver said the current mayor was going to be out of town.
Ultimately, Hanby would like to see a plaza built uniting the two green spaces on either side of the monument, and he thinks such a thing could be done independently of local government, but of course that would require much more effort than a yearly event. That would require the dedication and direction of someone local, and we don’t have a very good track record of that kind of civic involvement, do we?