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Crane Lifts Piece of South Carolina History…Gently

Wed January 04, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Bob Kudelka

Gene Ardis admitted he had a few restless nights thinking about the task ahead of him.

Moving a pair of 75-ton (68 t) stone monuments built in 1930 at Lake Murray had plenty of unknowns, mainly how fragile the stone blocks would be once Ardis’ crew hooked them to a Liebherr crane and moved them from the path of the SC 6 widening project.

“I’ve moved things a lot bigger and heavier but not as possibly fragile,” said Ardis, steel and rigging project manager of Cripple Creek Corp. Inc. and a 34-year construction veteran. “I’ve never done anything like this.”

When it came time for the move in late September, Ardis tried to ignore the taped numbers on each stone block — put there in case the monuments needed to be reconstructed if things did not go well.

The stone entrance gates at both ends of the Lake Murray Dam on SC 6 in Lexington County were erected circa 1930 by the Highway Commission to honor the naming of Lake Murray (for William Spencer Murray, chief engineer) by a Special Act of the General Assembly, said SCDOT’s Bonnie Frick, who researched the historical information.

“The gates are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of their association with the Lake Murray Dam and their unique architecture,” Frick said.

Due to their historical significance and potential adverse effects that the SC 6 widening project would have on the gates, Frick said SCDOT coordinated with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and historical groups.

The result of this coordination was the decision to relocate two of the four stone gates to preserve the “gateway appearance” at both ends of the dam.

“Each one of the entrance gates is constructed of broken coursed blue granite stone and has a curved footprint,” Frick said. “On each set of gates there are two bronze plaques that commemorate the completion of the dam.”

The move came Sept. 25 and 26 with C. Ray Miles, the prime contractor, Cripple Creek Corp. Inc. and SCDOT working together.

Workers first dug out around each foundation and slid a steel platform made out of I beams. With a gap left between the steel beam and the footer, they used grout to pack the spacing, making it virtually as strong as steel.

Then they erected vertical bars to keep the monuments from shifting during the move. As an added precaution, the contractor rented four 25-ton (22.6 t) air activated hoists tied to the rigging of the crane to keep the monuments level.

Once they lifted the monuments and set them in place at their new locations 65 ft. away, workers poured new concrete foundations.

“All the mortar joints on the walls virtually have some kind of stress to them,” said Fred Barnes, area manager of CRM East. “You just didn’t know what was going to take place. The biggest challenge has been all the unknowns.”

With a small crowd gathered, both moves went off without a problem and the historic gates settled in to their new locations.

“It’s been a delicate but somewhat calculated move that’s taken a lot of teamwork and effort to maintain the integrity of the structure,” Barnes said.

“I think the lake Murray community will be real pleased that we retained these monuments of the lake that were actually here when the lake was built,” said District 1 DEA Thad Brunson after watching the 300-ton (272 t) crane gently lower the second gate. “It was a good cooperative effort with us, our planning and the contractor. I think they’re going to be well pleased.”

Among the interested spectators was Betty Strait, whose father built the monuments 76 years ago. Her father was Charles E. Taylor, Lexington funeral home owner, who also had a contract with the power company to move graves at sites where the lake would be coming.

Taylor also had a memorial service and built tombstones using blue granite from his quarries in Chapin and other areas. Strait said Taylor built the stone gates at Lake Murray for free, not surprising for a man who held funerals without charge for families who could not afford to pay.

For Strait, the last survivor among Taylor’s four children, the stone gates are a reminder of her father, who died in 1955.

“I really can’t explain how I do feel — I look at them with admiration and I think about what a wonderful person he was,” said Strait. “He was a special fella.”

Ardis cracked a smile as looked back at the gates, now safely moved. Among the remaining tasks: pull the numbers tagged on each block — they now would not be needed.

“It went off as I had hoped it would,” Ardis said. “I can’t say enough good things about the people who built this thing. They did a super job.”

Bob Kudelka is assistant director of Communications of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

(This story originally ran in the fall 2006 edition of SCDOT’s “The Connector.”)

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