By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
A man who has done major work to promote the history of Harnett County and the surrounding area will be honored with a special day in his honor Sunday.
More than 100 people are expected to gather at the Shaw House outside Coats for Bryan Keith Avery Day. Several speakers will address the crowd about what Mr. Avery has done to impact the history of the local area.
Linda Overby is one of those organizing the project. She and her husband, Johnny, have worked closely with Mr. Avery. They are the current caretakers of the Doushee Shaw Halfway House site, where the celebration will be held and where much of Mr. Avery’s work has been centered.
Mrs. Overby said the celebration is overdue.
“He is a humble man who doesn’t want attention, but we just decided it’s time to honor him for all he has done,” Mrs. Overby said.
Mr. Avery has been a part of multiple history-related projects in the area. Perhaps most notably he has been the mastermind of the restoration of the Shaw House which has stood since the country’s Revolutionary period near the current Coats-Erwin Middle School.
Mr. Avery has guided dozens of people on tours of the facility which, according to legend, was a stopping point for Marquis de Lafayette while he was on a tour of the area after the Revolutionary War. The facility considered a midway stopping point on the Old Stage Road between Raleigh and Fayetteville. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War Battle of Averasboro. Soldiers staying in the facility left engravings on the inside of the facility’s roof that remain visible today. The Shaw House had fallen into serious disrepair before Mr. Avery discovered its past and began working to restore the property. He eventually spearheaded a movement to purchase the facility for a local nonprofit organization with the intent to renovate it for educational purposes.
People throughout the state also know Mr. Avery from his work educating citizens on the ancient craft of making tar, pitch and turpentine.
He has expanded his craft in recent months to include the ancient craft of coopering, or barrel making.
Mr. Avery calls his exhibit “The Greatest Naval Stores Show on Earth” and has been on exhibit at community gatherings, educational events and festivals throughout the state. The exhibit has been a regular fixture at events at the Sandhills Antique Farm Equipment Club exhibition park in Lillington.
He and the crew that helps with the demonstration made a film of the tar, pitch and turpentine manufacturing process that is available for use by history teachers throughout the region.
He directed a series of films on the history of the area based on books that he wrote.
The “River Town” series depicted life in the original Town of Averasborough which stood outside Erwin. Many local citizens were given the opportunity to participate in the film.
Mr. Avery coordinated the establishment of monuments and flags on the site of the original town of Averasborough. Those monuments continue to stand at the site which is located off Chicora Road outside Erwin.
Mr. Avery made an effort to renovate one of Lillington’s oldest buildings, also known as the Shaw House, but could not coordinate efforts with the town to renovate the building. He was an early supporter of plans for Lillington to establish a history museum. A committee is now in place to complete the opening of a museum.
In some of his earliest efforts, Mr. Avery worked to uncover and clean up ancient cemeteries in the area, particularly around the Averasboro Battlefield. He has served as a volunteer at the battlefields at different points. Members of Neill’s Creek Baptist Church asked Mr. Avery to assist them in locating graves in the church cemetery which he was able to do.
Mrs. Overby said some of his best work was bringing people together to accomplish assorted tasks. “River Town brought people of all faiths, politics, colors and backgrounds together to tell our Harnett County history,” Mrs. Overby said. “I never personally saw evidence that there was any disagreement on set during or after filming.”
Mr. Avery has been featured on WRAL television’s “Tar Heel Traveler” several times. Episodes have focused on specific aspects of Mr. Avery’s work.
One of his most recent appearances was not history related, but was a feature on Mr. Avery’s cat, Bubba. Through Facebook, Mr. Avery has turned his cat into a local celebrity, chronicling his life (or rather made-up life) through Facebook posts.
State Sen. Ronald Rabin will be among the speakers at the event. Sen. Rabin starred in one episode of “River Town” and helped coordinate efforts in Raleigh to obtain funding for the Shaw House project.
“I think this is a great thing,” Sen. Rabin said. “Grassroot Americans like Bryan, who really try to make a difference in their communities, are not recognized enough. The work he has done shows us where we came from with his different history projects.”
Bryan Avery Day is open to the public. It will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Shaw House located at 73 Turlington Road near the intersection with N.C. 55. Anyone who wants more information can contact John and Linda Overby at 910-514-5934 or Desi L. Campbell at 980-800-3991.