Monday, August 18, 2008

Song catchers and story catchers

By Brownie Plaster, Chair, DCC Board of Directors

At the turn of the 20th century, “song catchers” traveled rural areas of America armed with the earliest of recording equipment with the goal to record (catch) the songs that were native and unique to each place they visited. This summer, Destination Cleveland County (DCC), through its oral history project led by Kathryn Hamrick and Darlene Gravett, is becoming a “story catcher,” traveling to homes and events to “catch” the stories that are unique to us and reflect this wonderful place where we live.

The reader might remember that in DCC’s research of successful museums across the country, we learned that the objects and the archives do tell the history, but what makes them come alive is the story of the people behind the objects. That’s how we came up with the title, the Earl Scruggs Center-Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills, for bringing alive the 1907 courthouse building and its contents in an innovative fashion.

This summer DCC has “story catchers” roaming the county with the latest of recording devices. This is being made possible by a unique affiliation between DCC and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Here’s how it is working. We have hired four graduate students in that program to come to Cleveland County to help us identify the stories that need to be told. Each student is paired with a local citizen who acts as a guide/host during his or her stay. Buzz Biggerstaff, Gail Daves, Tommy Forney and Joy Scott are volunteering in the host capacity. This group (along with the co-chairmen and Emily Epley, DCC’s, executive director) traveled to Chapel Hill July 17 for a day of training at the Center for the Study of the American South.

Since then, each pair -- local citizen/ grad student -- has hosted a kick off meeting with local residents and is beginning the interviewing process which will go on for several months. Tape recordings and transcripts resulting from the interviews conducted for this project will be housed in the Earl Scruggs Center where they will be made available for use by the general public. Typical uses may include publications, audio/visual presentations including CDs and DVDs, exhibits and websites. Participation by the story teller is purely voluntary. Our four focus areas are the textile story, the music story, the African American story, and then a miscellaneous category in which we are exploring the changing face and cultural landscape of Cleveland County. Several generous county residents have opened their homes to house these students and for that we are most appreciative.

We are having great fun! Sure, it’s a lot of work, but we are learning so much about ourselves that we would like to pass on to future generations that this work is worth our collective efforts. Come along with us. Would you like to become trained in the fall as a “story catcher?” Would you like to be a transcriptionist? Do you have a story? Want to contribute in any way? Just give us a call, 704.487.6233.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

New DCC executive director on the job

Emily Epley, right, brings enthusiasm, leadership experience, and energy to the executive director’s post at Destination Cleveland County – “a good fit for our organization,” says DCC Board Chair Brownie Plaster. Emily assumed her new responsibilities July 1 and has spent her first few days getting to know more about the organization, its projects, and volunteers.

“I’ve been observing DCC from a distance and believe that its projects are very meaningful to Cleveland County,” she says. “I’m excited to be part of this visionary organization.”

In the post, Emily succeeds Marta Holden, DCC’s initial executive director. Marta resigned to relocate with her family to Texas, taking with her great appreciation for her many contributions as well as warm good wishes for the future.

A native of Richmond, Va., Emily has called Cleveland County home for more than 10 years. She lives in Boiling Springs with her husband Mike and their three-year-old son Andrew.

Emily was previously employed part-time at Cleveland Community College as a business and industry trainer and administrator of the WorkKeys and Career Readiness Certification program. She also has been an independent business and industry trainer specializing in communication skills, leadership, and customer service.

She was facilitator for the 2007-2008 class of Leadership Rutherford, a 10-month leadership development program. She also has worked locally with the Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce, the Cleveland County Abuse Prevention Council, and Childcare Connections. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Winthrop University, majoring in speech with an emphasis on interpersonal communications and a minor in music.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Specialized space for artifacts

Eddie Dubesko, left, of the Cleveland County maintenance department, and Cissy Anklam survey the new “home” of historical artifacts relocated from an earlier museum in the old courthouse building. The maintenance department handled preparation of the site to provide appropriate storage, environment, access, and security for the thousands of artifacts donated for the former museum.
Ms. Anklam is coordinator of the design team developing a master plan for the Earl Scruggs Center for Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills. The plan will be presented next week. She is a professional museum planner and formerly directed exhibit design and educational programming for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
The new storage site will provide space for the History Committee of Destination Cleveland County to finish its work of documenting the artifacts and in the future enable ready selection of objects for rotating displays in the Earl Scruggs Center to be located in the old courthouse building following its interior renovation.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

DCC report: a busy two months

By Brownie Plaster, Board Chair, Destination Cleveland County, Inc.

Traveling, moving, raising money, designing, planning -- that sums up the last two months of Destination Cleveland County’s activities.

Travels continue. Robin Hendrick, John Schweppe III and I attended the League of Historic American Theatres’ conference in Newberry, S.C., April 13-15. We were in conversation and meeting with theatre directors from all over the United States and Canada. We learned so much about the operation of a theatre and good practices that we need to follow. And we were thrilled that some of the recommendations the consultants made were things we are already doing! On another jaunt April 24, some of us visited with Kerry Taylor of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-CH. He is helping us plan for our next phase of community engagement which will be researching the wonderful stories of our local citizens. Through that contact, we were able to secure an intern from the University of Louisville to work with our history committee over the summer. He arrived this week.

Moving. DCC hired a professional mover to move the objects and artifacts from the former museum to the new location that will be used for storage and continuing inventory work. We are so pleased that all items have been moved safely and are all together in one location and on one floor. This permanent location is going to provide the space for the history committee to finish its documentation work as well as provide for the easy selection of objects for rotating displays at the Scruggs Center.

Raising money. Our Rhythm and Roots campaign continues to do well, in spite of tough economic times. We believe that we are having this continued success because local citizens truly believe in the future economic impact that these two projects will have to our city, county and region. The Rural Center awarded us $400,000 for the Don Gibson Theatre. We are all investing in our county and region.

Designing. Stan Anthony of MBAJ Architecture is in the process of finalizing the plans for the Theatre, and Roger Holland of Holland and Hamrick Architects is beginning his work to determine what needs to be done at the former courthouse to bring it up to code so that it will be serviceable for public usage.

Planning. Cissy Anklam, the museum design team co-coordinator, was here April 30-May 1 and conducted four community meetings around the county. Cissy was gratified to see the number of citizens who came to each of the area meetings with their comments and suggestions of resources to use as we move forward. Cissy and her team members will be back in Cleveland County this next week, May 22-23 for more dialogue and will be here in mid-June to present the final Master Plan document to the public (time and location TBA).

Do we feel that we are part of something incredibly worthwhile? Are we having fun? Yes and yes. Be a part of our effort. Volunteer! DCC office is 704.487.6233. There’s a lot more work to do and a place for all who are interested.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Public sessions focus on Scruggs Center planning

Discussion was lively as groups of Clevelanders met at four locations this week for 'Conversations with Cissy' about master-planning for the Earl Scruggs Center - Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills. Destination Cleveland County (DCC) is developing the center at the historic old county courthouse in downtown Shelby.

These photos are from the session held at the Kings Mountain (N. C.) Historical Museum, where Mickey Crowell (pictured with J. T. Scruggs, inset) is director. Cissy Anklam (left in the second photo with Diane Rooney) heads the master planning design team. In bottom photo are Johnny Reavis, Larry Hamrick, Sr., Ms. Rooney, and Ms. Anklam.

At this session and others held in Shelby, Boiling Springs, and Lawndale, Ms. Anklam and DCC leaders shared gleanings from interaction with the community to date as to prospective themes and programming for the Scruggs Center and told about early work on a building layout to encompass the variety of displays, functions, and events anticipated for the revitalized courthouse building. Participants shared their ideas and responses.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Banking dollars and dreams

Like many of the other items donated to the former historical museum here by Mrs. Thelma Gunthrope before her death, the unique bank catalogued recently by volunteer Jo Ann Surratt, right, whispers a story.

The green and brown tin box is designed to hold four separate brass-colored banks inside. There are slots in the flip-up lid through which to deposit coins and bills into the banks. And there are little holders on the lid for labels, to indicate what the money is to go for, once it’s saved up. The item is labeled as a Home Budget Bank, product of Tudor Metal Products Corporation in New York.

The bank came with many preprinted labels, stored inside, for common budget items. It must have been wartime, for the labels include Defense Bonds and USO in addition to Rent and Fuel.

But someone (was it Miss Thelma?) has turned over the preprinted labels and penciled in different, more personal labels instead.

Honeymoon, says one. And three others: Mine. Yours. Ours.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Historical artifacts being moved to storage location

Cooperative local efforts have identified a storage location for the thousands of historical artifacts held in the former county courthouse building in Shelby, N. C.

The collection will be moved in early May to the large gymnasium of the former Hunter School building on Pinkney Street in Shelby, adjacent to and sharing back parking with the Cleveland County Schools’ instructional center. The gym area is no longer used for school purposes.

The artifacts were donated for a former historical museum at the old courthouse and have been held there by Cleveland County government, on behalf of all citizens, since that museum closed. For several months now, volunteers of Destination Cleveland County, Inc. (DCC) have been working to inventory and properly document the artifacts, with the guidance of professional museum collection managers. They estimate that about half the overall job is done so far and expect to complete the work more quickly going forward, by having the artifacts in a building purposely set up for their cataloging, inventory, and storage, said Sherry Grenier, co-chair of the DCC History Committee.

Local volunteers Libby Sarazen and Millie Lattimore have been leading the documentation of paper archives ranging from early governmental documents to letters from famous forebears to hundreds of old photographs. The ambitious goal is to inventory and document each and store it by proper accession number for ready access in both original form and computer scan. Right now, their workroom is a cramped former office in the old courthouse, ringed with boxes and files.

“It will be wonderful to have adequate work space and facilities to process a document completely all at one time and know it will not have to be touched again for proper archiving,” Ms. Sarazen said.

Local governmental and school leaders cooperated to arrange use of the space, and DCC collection managers provided information about optimum storage and work needs, said Eddie Bailes of the county manager’s office. Preparation of the site for its new function is being completed by county maintenance director Pete McFarland and crew.

The relocation will also facilitate planning for the interior renovation of the former courthouse building, which DCC has leased from the county for development of the prospective Earl Scruggs Center – Songs & Stories of the Carolina Foothills. Plans for the Center anticipate rotating exhibits drawing from the local collection of artifacts.

Roger Holland of Holland & Hamrick Architects, PA, engaged to provide architectural services for the renovation, said planning work could proceed more efficiently after the relocation. “We’ll be better able to move around and thoroughly examine the structure – for example, determining which walls are load-bearing,” he said. Work so far has been careful and cautious so as not to disturb the unprotected collection or create dust or debris that would compromise it.

Relocation of the collection also addresses other needs, DCC board chairman Brownie Plaster said. Fundamental are adequate security and environmental conditions for preserving the collection – for example, lighting, heating, and cooling, she said. Another is adequate space and furnishings such as shelving for organizing and arranging the artifacts, as well as proper work tables and facilities such as bathrooms for those working on the collection.

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Ready for move to storage location -- The courtroom in the historic old courthouse saw justice meted out in days gone by, and it will be a gathering spot as the building is revitalized as the Earl Scruggs Center. For now, by necessity its lawyers’ tables, jury box, and benches hold historical artifacts being inventoried and catalogued. They will be moved to a more suitable storage and work area in early May.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

School trophy cup presents mystery

This tarnished old trophy cup was catalogued during a recent workday at the old county courthouse building in Shelby -- and it presented a puzzle. The cup was donated to the former historical museum in 1984 by the Shelby City School system. Engraving on one side of the cup indicates it was awarded in 1929 by The Cleveland Star newspaper to Washington School as winner of an elementary school contest. However, the name “Washington School” has been scratched over and an arrow incised pointing to the other side, where the name “Graham School” is engraved.

Volunteer cataloger Eleanor Morgan, inventorying the cup, and others around the worktable raised some possibilities. Perhaps the engraver made an error? Perhaps it was a rotating cup? Perhaps as the Great Depression began there was no money for a new one?

But there’s no way of knowing for sure, unless some reader has knowledge of the cup and lets us know by sending a message through Comments below.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy birthday to Laura

Volunteers at an April 12 workday for the historic county courthouse collection project surprised Laura Overbey, right, with recognition of her birthday during their lunch break. Joining in with a “Happy Birthday” sign is Sara Mac Wood, daughter of Millie Wood, DCC History Committee co-chair and provider of the cupcakes. Laura and her colleague Lenore Hardin are professional museum collections managers helping guide the local project.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

In case of fire…throw grenade!

At first, none of the group working to catalog historical artifacts at the old county courthouse building in Shelby could identify the object that volunteer Rebecca Love, M. D., right, had on the worktable before her.

The strange-looking device had an accession number on it, though, and from that and the label, Dr. Love was able to give it a name and a bit of history.

“It’s a fire extinguisher for manual use,” she said, donated to the former historical museum many years ago by the Kings Mountain Fire Department. How was it used? She pointed to the label: “Throw bulb at base of flame.”
Apparently, no one ever threw this particular device. Its frosted globe top and shiny metal base are in excellent shape. Whatever flame-killing liquid it might have held, however, seems long dried up – shaken gently, it seems to have grains or crystals inside. But the label is clear, bearing the name of the Out-o-Matic Co. of 1737 E. 31st St. in Denver, Colo., and various identifying numbers.

For any who are interested, the volunteers thought, it should be easy enough to follow up and learn more detail about home firefighting in days gone by. But follow-up turned out to be tough and tantalizing. For starters:

-- No one reached at the Kings Mountain Fire Department could immediately recall the device or donating it.

-- An Internet search at first turned up no useful results: no Out-o-Matic, no vintage fire extinguisher, no fire globe, no search term that yielded a description or image of a device like this.

Then came a breakthrough, and it was a good thing on Martha Stewart’s website that unlocked the puzzle. Her interview with a firefighting historian covered the evolution of extinguishing devices, from the leather buckets and warning rattlers that colonists used to early water “syringes” pumped by hand to grenades to extinguishers improved to the models used today.

Ah, ha, a fire grenade!

Use of that search term on the Internet yielded dozens of results, including the Glass Extinguisher Emporium. That site is the only one found that had a reference to and picture of an Out-o-Matic fire grenade exactly like ours.

The site tells the general history of fire grenades, which had a life span from 1860 to 1960 or thereabouts. Grenades of the first generation frequently were made in the form of ornate, colorful bottles prized by collectors today (see the many illustrations on the Emporium site). The second generation by post-1900 makers took on a more industrial design, similar to the professional-looking model in Cleveland County’s collection.

Saline solution and other fire-killing liquids were used in the grenades. At one point, many used carbon tetrachloride, considered hazardous today. The label on the local device, however, says “Contains no carbon tetrachloride.”

The search led to Denver, where the device was made, and contact with the Denver Firefighters Museum where Angela Rayne is enthusiastic executive director.

As expected, she reported that the Out-o-Matic Company and its street address exist no longer. She shared information about the large number of thriving firefighter museums across the country and how they work together in the Fire Museum Network. This organization has nearly 300 fire museum members across the country. The site indicates they range from “a spare room in a firehouse basement” to magnificent institutions such as the New York City Fire Department Museum.

Ms. Rayne sent best wishes to local volunteers. She also wanted them to know the fire museum network has undertaken a collective project to further delineate the standard museum classification system (used locally) in the area of firefighting. When completed, this will provide museums an in-common nomenclature for more precisely naming items within the standard system’s broader categories.

Note: If you recall fire grenades or ever used one, we’d like to hear about it. Tell us by clicking on Comments below.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Perspective: Remembering ‘Miss Fay’

When we volunteers come to the old county courthouse building in Shelby to help inventory and document the historical artifacts stored there, our main workroom has been the area set aside for a local Hall of Fame. Its walls are ringed with portraits of Cleveland County’s great, and its display cases are filled with souvenirs of their service.

We imagine sometimes their eyes are upon us. And we feel very accountable for good stewardship of the legacy left us by these leaders and our other forebears here in the foothills of North Carolina.

Sometimes we talk about them. In this presidential campaign year, particularly, we’ve chatted about the “Shelby Dynasty” and its mark on politics. I’m partial to stories about Mrs. O. Max Gardner (the former Fay Webb), whose luminous portrait hangs beside that of her husband, former governor of North Carolina and subsequent Washington presence.
As the Webbley site describes her: “She had the uncanny ability to be at ease and at home in the White House, the Governor's Mansion, or at the home of a friend in Shelby. These characteristics were publicly recognized … when she was honored in 1958 by the Women's National Democratic Club in Washington. During these ceremonies, she was described by former President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman as ‘North Carolina's all-time gracious citizen. A wonderful woman, and the wife of one of the great men of our time.’ During these same ceremonies, Eleanor Roosevelt stated that Miss Fay was ‘always the same - cordial, enthusiastic, human, understanding and delightful.’ Margaret Truman added that as long as she could remember ‘Miss Fay had been an ornament to political and social life in North Carolina and Washington’.”

I remember how she loved politics, staying active after her husband’s death and integrally involved in Democratic affairs. I believe she would be delighted that North Carolina once again has relevance in a presidential campaign, just as she was in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency.

She campaigned hard in her gracious way that year, and I had the privilege of seeing her in action. I was a young, inexperienced reporter for the Shelby Daily Star, and she kindly invited me to a luncheon in Charlotte during one of Candidate Kennedy’s campaign stops. The event was at Ivey’s Tulip Terrace, where ladies went for lunch then, and I wore a hat. The other three guests were Lady Bird Johnson, whose husband Lyndon was running for vice president, Rose Kennedy, the candidate’s mother, and Jeanelle Moore, wife of N. C. Governor Dan Moore.

I wish I could say I came away with deep insights from these remarkable women, but at the time I had no hint of history to come, was too young to appreciate the portent, and was, in fact, a little frustrated at being confined to what I thought was the women’s beat and not the main Kennedy rally going on elsewhere in the city.

But over time I came to understand that Miss Fay didn’t see her broad role in politics as a limited woman’s beat. In fact she was a pioneer in demonstrating the value of women’s contributions to politics, and having Miss Fay out there before us made it easier to step out and take part.

Another courthouse volunteer, Barry Hambright, has a sparkling story illustrating that. He recalls as a youngster watching folks gather for a rally at the local Democratic headquarters in downtown Shelby, during that same Kennedy campaign. On the sidewalk outside was an elegantly garbed Miss Fay, vigorously shaking a tambourine, smiling and beckoning the people in.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Public ‘Conversations with Cissy’ sessions scheduled at four county locations

The design team working on a master plan for a revitalized historical center based in the old courthouse building in Shelby, N. C., has been engaged for months in dialogue with Cleveland County people.

And to keep the conversation going, four more public meetings have been scheduled to share findings and progress of planning efforts to date, elicit more local input, and hear any questions about the process.

The sessions will be led by Cissy Anklam, who heads the master planning team for the prospective Earl Scruggs Center – Stories & Songs of the Carolina Foothills. The center is being developed by Destination Cleveland County, Inc. (DCC), a local non-profit organization working toward improvement in the area’s economy through cultural tourism.

The four County Conversations with Cissy will be held at sites across the county and at varying times to make it more convenient for local residents to take part in a session, said Brownie Plaster, DCC board chair. The schedule:

Wednesday, April 30:

7:30 p.m., Cleveland County Arts Council, 111 S. Washington St., Shelby

Thursday, May 1:

9:00 a.m., Lawndale Community Center, Piedmont Drive, Lawndale
12:00 noon, Boiling Springs Methodist Church fellowship hall, 215 S. Main St., Boiling Springs (please bring a bag lunch)
7:30 p.m., Kings Mountain Historical Museum, 100 E. Mountain St., Kings Mountain

Ms. Anklam is a professional museum planner and formerly directed exhibit design and educational programming for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She is now a principal of Museum Concepts, which works with museum clients across the country.

The master plan being developed anticipates the former courthouse building as a base of exhibits, interactive features, and lively programming showcasing the area’s unique history and heritage, including culture embedded in song and story. It will draw upon the county’s store of historical artifacts remaining from an earlier, now-closed historical museum at the site.

At the meetings, Ms. Anklam will report progress and identify major themes emerging so far from the design team’s research and engagement with local citizens – for example, the county’s farm and textile-industry roots and political history.

Design team members gathered much valuable information during their earlier public sessions and interviews with county residents, Ms. Plaster said. “At our Conversations meetings, we’ll encourage even more suggestions of people to talk to for additional insights.”

Targeted for completion in June, the master plan report will provide the broad strokes of program concept and collections plan, facility, site, and staffing requirements, and planning foundations for the work of subsequent architectural, exhibit design, media and interpretive teams.

Design team members in addition to Ms. Anklam are Richard Molinaroli and Beth Miles, exhibit designers and principals of MFM Design; Jeff Place, archivist of folklife archives and collections at the Smithsonian; and John Hubbell, exhibit writer/researcher. Herman Viola, Ph.D., curator emeritus of the Smithsonian, is an advisor.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

DCC’s Rhythm & Roots campaign announced

“Making history in Cleveland County” is the theme of the Destination Cleveland County Rhythm & Roots capital campaign now underway. A solid start has been made, and campaign leaders hope many others will sign on for the journey.

Cheering that message were approximately 250 local citizens gathered at The Gingerbread Meeting House in Shelby, N. C., April 3 for announcement of the capital campaign to raise a total $7.5 million over five years. The local goal is $4.2 million, and the remainder will be sought from foundations and other grant sources. DCC will use the funds to carry out plans for attracting significant cultural tourism to the area by building on its unique musical heritage, history, and charm.

To do that, DCC plans include two catalyst projects. One is creation of the Earl Scruggs Center--Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills, to be located in the historic former county courthouse building. The other is conversion of a former Shelby movie house into the Don Gibson Theatre.

Introduced by DCC Board Chair Brownie Plaster, Campaign General Chairs Robin Hendrick and J. T. Scruggs reported that $3.6 million – more than 80 percent of the local goal – has already been pledged. The amount includes the City of Shelby’s matching grant of $500,000 toward the theater renovation, Cleveland County government’s commitment of $1.5 million for interior renovation of the former courthouse building, and generous gifts from early local contributors.

Also introduced were Linton Suttle and Adelaide Craver, chairs of the campaign’s Leadership Council, and Robin Smith and Will Plaster, chairs of the Leadership Division. Jim Rose is honorary chair of the campaign.

“This is a generous community and an important night,” Scruggs said. The event recognized both the capital campaign launch and progress made to date.

“DCC is less than two years old,” Ms. Plaster reported, “and in that time it has researched the viability of the two projects, secured the leases for the two venues, begun the inventory of the county’s historical artifacts, assembled a growing volunteer base, secured top national consultants to guide us, and established relationships with the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and elected officials on the local, state, and national levels.”

“When the Master Plan for the Scruggs Center and the programming of the Gibson Theatre are revealed, the excitement will grow even more,” Hendrick said. DCC is engaged now in the master planning process with the help of an expert team of museum planners and other cultural historians and specialists.

Those gathered heard more about Rhythm & Roots and saw a special CD presentation describing the proactive five-year public and private initiative to accelerate cultural tourism and economic development and to recognize local history and heritage, as revitalization strategies.

The effort is attracting the attention of others elsewhere involved in development and heritage preservation.

“I am thrilled to know about the exciting plans being developed by Destination Cleveland County,” said Dr. Bill Ferris, eminent professor of history at the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill. “The project will have a significant impact on the state of North Carolina as a resource for cultural tourism and education. I look forward to working with the citizens of Cleveland County as the project develops and am confident that it will be a great success.”

Several early contributors to the campaign were recognized during the event, made even more festive with the music of the Gardner-Webb University Concert Choir, directed by Dr. Paul Etter, and the GWU Drum Line. Among the lead donors are Ann Harry, First National Bank, Linton and Sallie Suttle, the Suttle Family Foundation (Linton and Sallie Suttle, Carole and Jack Arey, and Vance and Gina Suttle), and the Fox family (Mrs. C. L. Fox, Larry and Karen Fox, and Lisa and Mike Poage).

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

WW II military technology: electrically heated flyers’ jacket

Shown at right, the silky, dark olive jacket from World War II illustrates the ingenuity of military innovation playing out even today in space-age and consumer technology.

Among historical artifacts found at the old Cleveland County, N. C., courthouse building, the jacket is labeled as property of the U. S. Air Force, made by General Electric, and a part of the F-3 electrically-heated suit issued to pilots and their crew members. Laced throughout are wires such as might now be found in heating pads and electric blankets. A plug extends from the bottom front to connect to similarly wired trousers, which connected to wired shoe inserts.

This jacket was donated to the former historical museum in 1982 along with many other items by Ruth Spangler. Its specific history is not immediately known. (If you know about this or other such flight jackets, we'd love to hear from you.) However, the role of the electrically heated suit is well documented in the history of U. S. units flying fabled planes such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator in strategic bombing of European industrial and military targets. (See military history and research.

The heated suits were developed in response to a severe problem: frostbite in the frigid winter skies at the 25,000-30,000 feet optimum for heavy bombers. Until the military figured out how to deal with the cold, more flight crewmen were suffering frostbite than were being wounded by enemy gunfire.

The F-3 outerwear suit evolved from earlier versions worn as underwear and not as satisfactory. An earlier suit was wired in series, and if one wire failed, the entire suit did. And breakage of fine wires through wear and tear was common.

As one flyer wrote: “…the electric suits had ‘hot spots’ in them. After a while they would burn under the armpits and behind the knees and elbows and they had to be turned off until those areas cooled. And by the time they cooled the rest of you was shivering. So you would fly missions in an electric suit turning it on and off and on and off all the way out and back.”

The F-3 suit was wired in parallel to prevent the entire suit from failing if one wire broke, and that one modification is said to have improved the suit’s reliability more than 75 percent.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Civil War drum: the beat of history

The old drum stood in a dark corner of the second floor at the former Cleveland County, N. C., courthouse building, artifact of the historical museum once housed there. Volunteers cataloguing the artifacts could find no identification number on it. Without that, its history couldn’t be immediately looked up in the former museum’s accession registers.

Volunteer Ned Cash (left) took on the job of classifying and documenting the artifact. A percussionist himself, he could virtually hear the sound of the old drum even though its drumheads are long gone, its barrel gouged, and its fittings in disarray. He pointed out the drumsticks (right), explaining how one made big booms and the other quick and light.

And he had the nudging feeling that somewhere he’d heard about an old drum such as this, quite likely through his work with the Broad River Genealogical Society. His day at the old courthouse done, he researched further and made some calls.

Back came his report: “It was Alexander Norton Harmon’s drum,” Ned said. “He was field drummer in Company G of the 49th Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry during the Civil War. It was donated by his grandson, Earl Harmon.” And the old drum suddenly had stories to share.

Alexander Harmon, the sixth of eight children of Mr. and Mrs. Heywood Harmon, was born in 1845 in the Kings Mountain, N. C., area. So he must have been less than 20 years old when he enlisted in Company G of the 49th Regiment formed in March 1862. The company was called the “Kings Mountain Tigers,” and it functioned as a part of the regiment throughout the war.

According to regimental history, the 49th “fought with the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days’ Battles to Fredericksburg….[I]t was active at Drewry’s Bluff and Cold Harbor, took its place in the Petersburg trenches south of the James River, and saw action around Appomattox. This regiment lost 14 killed, 75 wounded, and 16 missing at Malvern Hill, had 16 killed and 61 wounded during the Maryland Campaign, and had 9 wounded at Fredericksburg. Many were disabled at Sayler’s Creek, and it surrendered 11 officers and 95 men on April 9, 1865.”

Ned heard the story of young Alexander’s coming home on a train after the war. With a crowd of troops there was no room inside the train for his drum. Determined to keep it with him, Alexander tied the drum onto a ledge on the back of the train. And thanks to that ingenuity, it survives today in the historical old county courthouse.

Alexander Harmon died in 1914 and is buried at El Bethel Methodist Church cemetery near Kings Mountain.

Vivid information about field drums and the unique role of drummers and other musicians in Union and Confederate armies is available at the Web site of the Gettysburg National Military Park. A sample:

“Each company in an infantry regiment had a musician who was usually a drummer,” the Web site says. “They were relied upon to play drum beats to call the soldiers into formation and for other events. Drums got the soldiers up in the morning, signaled them to report for morning roll call, sick call, and guard duty. Drummers also played at night to signal lights out or 'taps.' The most important use of drums was on the battlefield where they were used to communicate orders from the commanding officers and signal troop movement.”

Would you like to hear how the old drum might have sounded? The Civil War Fife and Drum Page contains a schedule and sound clips of daily calls sounded by musicians in military camps. The site also has details and diagrams of drum construction.

Contributors: Pat Poston and Ned Cash

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vintage cosmetic case stirs imagination… know the story?

Volunteer Jo Ann Surratt, right, catalogs a Studio Girl Hollywood cosmetic sample case donated in the 1970s to the former local history museum by Thelma W. Gunthorpe of Shelby, N. C., before her death. It's one of numerous items she gave.

“I am proud to be an accredited Studio Girl Hollywood beauty advisor,” says a card inside the partitioned alligator-grained case. The case holds samples of lipstick, liquid and cream rouge, eyeshadow, liquid makeup, and more. There’s an order book inside to write down sales made.

Was Ms. Gunthorpe the saleslady at some time in the past? Was she relied on by neighbors and friends to help them stay stylish?

Various histories of the cosmetics industry recount trends including home sales during the 1940s and 1950s as women joined the work force and movies (later television) influenced makeup styles. Not much information seems available for Studio Girl, a brand (for which singer/actress Doris Day was a spokesperson) acquired in 1960 by Helene Curtis, which was in turn acquired in 1996 by Unilever.

If you have information about Ms. Gunthorpe or Studio Girl cosmetics, we’d love to hear from you and share it! Please click on Comments below to get in touch with us.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Perspective: Bustling about at the old courthouse

In my time I’ve worn shoulder pads quarterback Jake Delhomme would envy, so I don’t fault our foremothers for their bustles. It’s just that I had never actually seen an underpinning such as the two artifacts (shown here) being catalogued by another volunteer at our workday recently at the old courthouse building.

Busy with my own work, I didn’t have a chance then to examine them closely, but the thought occurred they seemed a little narrow to fit across one’s…ah…beam. Perhaps they’re panniers, I mused.

Precursor to the bustle and immensely popular in England and France in the mid-1700s, panniers were attached at the sides of one’s hips, sort of like side baskets (and indeed some had pockets for carrying things). For reasons I can’t fathom, women piled on bigger and bigger panniers to have wider and wider hips, with one outcome the development of French doors and broad staircases so women could get about. (I am not making this up.)

The artifacts in the courthouse didn’t look like any pannier I found in an Internet search – even a look at items the U. S. Patent Office classifies as “distenders.” But I did learn a lot about bustles, hoops, and other antique undergarments.

I found, for example, that prestigious museums, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, take them very seriously as part of costume and art history. Erudite thematic essays on the Met’s Web site, such as “Eighteenth Century Silhouette and Support,” tell of the fashion evolution. And the great Victoria & Albert South Kensington Museum in Great Britain devotes Web pages to the path from crinolines to corset, bustle and beyond.

So returning to the courthouse on a subsequent workday I took a closer look at our bustle artifacts. They were donated in 1981 by Howard and Alice Ward along with several other vintage clothing items. The larger bustle indeed had printing on its waist strap: The Health Braided Wire Bustle. Patented Jan. 19, 1886… and a maker and patent number I couldn’t decipher.

With this additional information in hand, I researched again. Eureka! There on the Web site of a British antique clothing shop was a a bustle just like ours. It’s described as dating from the late 1800s and made from criss-crossed wire allowing one’s back to “breathe.” But in fact, the site says, “most women just wore it with their old bustles to bulk up the size, making their backsides even bigger!”

It’s true that our bustles here in Cleveland County are not quite as fancy as some models. The V & A Museum reports:

The New Phantom bustle, dating from about 1884, had a special feature. The steel wires are attached to a pivot so that they folded in on themselves on sitting down and sprang back when the wearer rose. A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations contained a less useful device. It was fitted with a musical box that played 'God Save the Queen' each time the wearer sat down.

On second thought, our bustles here will do just fine.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Holding history in her hands

Juanita (Nita) Evans Caldwell stood a little overcome, holding history in her hands Saturday, March 1, at the old county courthouse building in Shelby, N. C. In the box lined with acid-free paper was the 200-year-old, hand-stitched vest once worn by Martin Roberts….

The Martin Roberts born in Virginia who had enlisted in the Revolutionary War in 1776, fought at Trenton, Brandywine, Guilford Court House, and other historic battlefields. Who had nearly frozen to death at Valley Forge with 11,000 other Continental soldiers. Who had served General George Washington at his headquarters as forage master…

The same Martin Roberts who after the war established mercantile businesses in Philadelphia and Delaware before relocating with his family in the 1790s to rolling land in North Carolina acquired through land grants, in No. 6 Township of Cleveland County (part of Rutherford County at the time). He lived here nearly 40 years and, with cannon fire and meager rations far behind, had begun serving as a justice of the peace in 1813.

He was Nita’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. A Shelby native now living in Lincolnton, she had come home to help out on a workday for volunteers cataloguing historic artifacts stored in the old courthouse. She was aware the vest had been donated to the former museum by Elizabeth Roberts, another of his descendants.

And then there it was. A dignified-looking vest, such as a justice of the peace might wear. Extraordinary even hand-stitching firmly holding together after two centuries the welt pockets, the lining. Hand-covered buttons down the front.

What pictures it conjured up. And what mysteries. “Did my great-great-great-great-grandmother make it, you think? Did she take care of it, and wash and press it?”

Nita went home that evening and set out to get the details of Martin’s story down on paper. Click below to read it.

Contributor: Pat Poston

Martin Roberts: Soldier, Merchant, Farmer, Justice of the Peace

By Juanita (Nita) Evans Caldwell

Martin Roberts was born May 25, 1758, to Morris and Unity Martin Roberts in Chesterfield County, Va.

Martin fought in the Revolutionary War, first enlisting Feb. 5, 1776, at the Chesterfield County Court House in Virginia with Captain Ralph Falkner's Company, in the Fifth Virginia Regiment commanded by Col. Mulenburgh and Lieut. Col. Josiah Parker, in the Virginia Continental Line.

He participated in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, N. J., Brandywine, Del., and Germantown, Pa. He was also at Valley Forge where he nearly froze to death along with 11,000 other Continental soldiers. He was discharged Feb. 20, 1778, at or near Valley Forge, Pa.

On Aug.5, 1780, he reenlisted and was appointed forage master for Gen. George Washington at the general's headquarters. As forage master he participated in the Battle of Hagerstown, Md., and at the Battle of Guilford Court House in 1781. He received his final discharge Aug. 1, 1782.

His military service put him in touch with the outside world, so to speak. So he went to Philadelphia, where he had participated in a battle, and “set in as a clerk in the mercantile business and remained there two years." About 1785, he moved to Delaware, another place he had fought during the war, where he and a friend, Enoch Wells, opened a store in Fast Landing (now Leipsic), a small town near Dover, Del. Here he met and married Elizabeth Durborow and they had three children: John, Martin Jr. and Lyndia, before selling out and moving to Rutherford (now Cleveland) County, N. C., where they were blessed with three more children: Patsy, James and Noah.

On July 16, 1796, Martin made entry for Land Grant No. 1909 which contained 200 acres located on the head branch of Shoal Creek in Rutherford (now Cleveland) County. On Sept. 28, 1799, he paid five pounds to the Treasury Office of North Carolina for the Grant, which was issued Dec. 16, 1799.

Then on July 16, 1801, he made entry for 80 acres of land lying on a branch of Hickory Creek which joined his own land. This Grant was issued Dec. 3, 1803.
In January 1813 he took the oath of office as Justice of the Peace.

Martin Roberts died Oct. 30, 1834, in Rutherford (now Cleveland) County. He is buried in a marked grave in the well maintained old Morris Roberts Cemetery on the Sweezy Farm in No. 6 Township of Cleveland County.

A piece of Martin Robert's clothing, a vest, is one of the many items that has been cataloged for storage at the old Cleveland County courthouse building in Shelby, N. C. Thanks to one of his descendants, Ms. Elizabeth Roberts, who donated it many years ago, a piece of history will live on.

This writer, Nita Caldwell a gggg granddaughter, had the rare opportunity to hold this 200 year old hand made vest in her hands while at the museum cataloging other items to be placed temporarily in storage.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mystery solved: Jack Palmer’s military gear

The volunteers cataloging historical artifacts at the old Cleveland County courthouse building in Shelby, N. C., at first couldn’t make sense of the nearly three dozen items of military clothing, insignia, and other gear donated years ago by William J. (Jack) Palmer.

For one thing, the clothing items seemed to come from two different wartimes. And unlike many of the other wrinkled uniforms donated for a local museum, these were starched, pressed to perfection, and neatly folded – not a spot on them.

So the volunteers telephoned Jack, 89, former Cleveland County commissioner for 12 years, former three-term representative in the N. C. General Assembly, and former owner of Palmer Mortuary in Shelby.

“We’ve been in your clothes all morning, Mr. Palmer,” they said in effect. “And we think you need to come down here and explain yourself.”

Jack came over from his home a few blocks away, in time to share the volunteers’ lunch of brought-in sandwiches. The old courthouse was familiar territory, given Jack’s years as a county commissioner and his earliest childhood in a home catty-cornered just across the intersection of Washington and Marion streets. He cleared up the mysteries.

Jack had served during two wartimes – World War II and the Korean War. And he had been associated with the Quartermaster Corps, the supply arm of the military responsible for ensuring troops have needed clothing, food, and other gear.

“You wouldn’t have been much of a supply officer if you weren’t a good scrounger,” Jack confessed. “And I have to say we always had plenty of clothes and looked pretty good.”

Or nearly always. He showed up in 1942 for Officers Candidate School at Camp Lee, Va., wearing cavalry boots, campaign hat, riding britches and spurs. “Man, we have got to get you some clothes,” said the officer on duty.

Jack had arrived there from the 124th Cavalry Regiment of the Texas National Guard, in which he had enlisted following graduation in 1939 from the University of Houston in Texas (home state of his mother, the late Ellen Corbett Palmer). The regiment was subsequently activated as war clouds grew. His early service included guarding the border between El Paso and Brownsville.

“Well,” Jack said, “it was Texas and a cavalry unit. We had horses.”

But not automobiles, when he went from OCS to Kingman, Ariz., as a young officer in the quartermaster group serving the U. S. Air Force. Perhaps two or three of his buddies at the base had cars, but gasoline was hard to come by. Las Vegas was 110 miles north, and it had four casinos. So, said Jack, ever the scrounger, “we’d hitch rides on airplanes to get there.”

VE Day came on May 8, 1945, while he was at Kingman. He can always remember because May 8 is his birthday. Then he was at Travis Air Force Base in California, preparing to ship out to Japan, when World War II ended. At age 28, he finished his first term of active duty in 1946.

But the story doesn’t end there. Back in Shelby, he joined the 311th Station Hospital, a local reserve unit, transferring from the quartermaster corps to the medical service corps. On the roster with his were other familiar Cleveland County names, such as Dr. Craig Jones, who headed the unit, Jack Hunt, Charles Sperling, Ralph Mitchem….

The unit was activated in 1951 and sent to Fort Bragg, N. C. Jack was sent on to the war zone in Korea, serving 10 months there before returning home in 1952. He managed supplies for the military hospital in Pusan, a converted old school building receiving wounded from the battlefields.

Back home again in Shelby, Jack stayed in the military reserves and retired at age 60 as a lieutenant colonel.

Seeing his gear at the old courthouse brought back memories.

Jack held up a pair of pants in front of the big pier mirror that’s a fixture in the old Hall of Fame area being used as the volunteers’ workroom. “These might date back as far as the 1930s, “ he said. “You can tell by the buttons….” He recalled what a scramble it was in the 1940s as the military services heroically galvanized for war. “They were using every scrap of uniform they could find…even issuing us wool shirts in Texas.”

He folded the pants back neatly, smoothing out the creases.

This additional note to Jack’s many acquaintances: he’s still sharp as a tack.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Reflecting on breakfast in times past

Volunteer Marywinn Amaya of Shelby, N. C., prepares to document an old waffle iron during a recent workday for volunteers inventorying historic artifacts in the old Cleveland County courthouse building. The iron (enlarged, inset) features an elegant handle that opens the device when lowered, gracefully curved legs, and heavy iron-like waffle plates. The device has a detachable fabric-covered electric cord (remember them?), frayed with age.

It’s easy to imagine a Cleveland County homemaker decades ago, making a Sunday breakfast with what surely was the latest in kitchen appliances in its time.

“Just beautiful,” Marywinn said. “I think perhaps with a new electrical cord you might even get it to work once again….”

She and other volunteers wear white cotton gloves when handling metal objects, to protect them, and use The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging, the book shown bottom right, to find the standard name and classification for objects. A yardstick is handy to measure object dimensions.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Volunteering: Jo Ann Surratt

Mountain, meet motivation and moxie – Jo Ann Surratt of Shelby.

The “mountain” consists of the thousands of historical object artifacts left behind in the old Cleveland County courthouse building when once-bright hopes for a local museum there faded. These artifacts have the stories of Cleveland County history in them – how we grew, worked, learned, lived, fought. But now stored and silent, these artifacts have no way to speak.

“Moxie” is a slang word summing up that combination of undaunted determination, know-how, persistence and inventiveness that would take on the mountain unfazed.

“This is a job that needs doing,” Jo Ann says, “and we can do it.” So for months now, she and other like-minded volunteers have spent many workdays at the old courthouse. They are uncovering these artifacts of our past, better ensuring their future, and envisioning a present when our ancestral touchstones are visible again.

The work is formally the Historic County Courthouse Collection Preservation Project of the History Committee of Destination Cleveland County.

Neither Jo Ann nor others involved in this project are quite certain just how many object artifacts there are. “We’ve made a big dent,” she says, turning to take another object from the workbox for cataloging and processing. And there’s no doubt in her voice the overall job will get finished even if it takes a few years.

Jo Ann heard about aspirations for the old courthouse building in early 2007 and responded to a call for volunteers. Since then, having seen the job that “needs doing,” she has spent most Fridays and Saturdays on the job in the workroom that houses exhibits and artifacts of the now-closed Cleveland County Hall of Fame.

It seems fitting that her customary place at the processing table is directly under a portrait of educator and Hall of Famer W. D. Burns, for whom Burns High School is named. Jo Ann is retired now after teaching for 33 years -- Spanish (and English and civics from time to time) at Burns High.

But she is a teacher still. Others who volunteer to help on Saturday workdays look to her as coach and leader, able to decipher the spidery handwriting in the accession ledgers of the former museum and not only to identify bewildering objects but also to figure out what standard museum classification they fit into.

For her, there is just a certain satisfaction in being able to fill in all the blanks on the forms used to name, classify, and describe each object. She likes to organize things, properly. (It is a small frustration now that she has hit a stop in a personal project to complete a 12-generation family tree of her Dalton, Hall, Freeman, and Huntley ancestors. “I’m stuck at Bushrod Conner in the 1800s,” she says. “I have to find Bushie’s parents.”)

Her parents were the late Boyce Freeman, whom many remember from his long career with Cleveland Lumber Company, and Estelle Hall Freeman, whom Jo Ann calls “an ultimate homemaker” who sewed her girls’ clothes and quilted and crocheted and in doing so gave Jo Ann a special appreciation for the exquisite, fragile needlework folded away as artifact at the old courthouse.

A graduate of Shelby High School and Appalachian State University, Jo Ann maintains her early interest in anthropology – the origin, development, social and cultural behavior of humans – even though first opting to shape young “humans” in the classroom.

So it’s a special pleasure and privilege now, she says, to hold evidence of our shared past in her hands.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Perspective: Don't gobble up my memories

It had been a long workday for us volunteers at the old courthouse recently, and I wasn’t thrilled to see that the next artifact I had to classify and describe was an old box containing six typewriter erasers. Typewriter erasers! Who would think they belong in a museum anyway?

According to sparse handwritten detail in the former county museum’s ledger, the erasers were donated by the County Elections Board office in 1990 when it relocated to new quarters.

Sighing, I looked up the standard museum classification: written communication T & E. I recorded the maker: A. W. Faber of Newark, N. J. Dimensions: about 1 ½ by 4 inches, counting the little brush you used to flick away the eraser dust from your typewriter keys. Other details and markings.

I looked around the workroom at fellow volunteers busy with other objects newly getting attention. The thought occurred to me that, at age 70, I might be the only one among them who knew what a typewriter eraser was. And had used one. Had actually learned to type on an old manual typewriter like the one another volunteer had catalogued earlier. And had spent my first working years pounding out copy on such a keyboard – carbon copies in triplicate. I dreaded having to erase mistakes so much I took great care not to make any – much to the benefit of my writing and keyboarding skills.

“What’s a carbon copy?” my high-schooler granddaughter had asked me once. She uses a laptop computer for composing themes and communicates by phone text-messaging.

I realized I wanted her and other young people to understand and appreciate how we did things in the old days. See here, said the six typewriter ribbons in their age-stained box.

“Why do the erasers and the box have different identification numbers?” I asked our helpers, consultants Lenore Hardin and Laura Overbey. Because the manufacturer’s box in this case is just as important as the items inside it, they said. Just be sure you document that the erasers are stored in the box, so we can find them later.

And they pointed out a problem: there was evidence carpet beetles had been in the box. Leavings. Loose and chewed bristles.

“Need to take care of that,” they said, carefully taking away the box of erasers to temporary safe storage and care in the old courtroom upstairs.

Yes! Out, out, danged beetles! You won’t gobble up my memories!

Afterthought: I went home and Googled round typewriter erasers with bristles to see if they are being manufactured and sold today. I could find no source of new ones, but did find that the National Gallery of Art features a noted outdoor sculpture inspired by such an eraser.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Middle schoolers at the 'center' of things

Joining DCC volunteers Saturday, March 1, in a preservation project workday at the old courthouse building in downtown Shelby, N. C., were some members of the Shelby Middle School Historical Society. In the top left photo are, left to right, Wesley Smith, 13, Nick Carpenter, 14, and Morgan Walker, 13. They're pointing to a bit of history they learned about on the spot -- the one-inch square of marble embedded in the central hallway of this historic Classic Revival structure. Dating from 1907, the building has a true compass orientation, and the marble square denotes the geodetic center of Shelby at the time.

The young volunteers helped tidy up and organize in the archival processing room. At right, Nick examines a 1850 handwritten census register. Below, Wesley and Morgan sort out photos of Cleveland County's sheriffs over the years.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Professionals provide expertise, enthusiasm

Laura Overbey, left, of Asheville and Lenore Hardin of Hendersonville are professional collections managers lending not only their considerable expertise but also their warm enthusiasm and good cheer to the DCC project to preserve the collection of historical artifacts in Cleveland County’s old courthouse building.

Engaged as consultants for the project, the two also guide and back up volunteers reporting for Saturday workdays spent inventorying and organizing objects and archives. With a processing plan and system in place, the work continues to pick up speed.

“Collections management” takes place well behind the polished display cases, intriguing exhibits, and lively programming of museums and historical places, but it’s crucial to them. According to Laura and Lenore, “managing” starts with identifying what you have and cataloging it properly and extends through proper storage and accessible location. Ongoing are preservation and stabilization of objects against deterioration. “Putting your eyes on things,” Laura says. “Taking care of and organizing wonderful objects,” Lenore adds. And, oh yes, dealing with pests from mice to moths to carpet beetles. And disaster planning….

Laura and Lenore are good coaches. (For example, the volunteers now speak “accession numbers” and standard museum classifications, and they slip on white cotton gloves to handle metal so as not to leave a trace of print behind.) And hard workers. They take objects volunteers have catalogued upstairs to the old courtroom, preparing them for proper storage and organizing them by category along the courtroom’s long benches. Once the inventory is complete, the items will be moved offsite for storage while the building is renovated.

Laura, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Tennessee, started her career in Knoxville at the Blount Mansion. She later worked at the East Tennessee Historical Society, where she says her most nerve-wracking job was handling Davy Crockett’s rifle.

Lenore, who first started work in the field seven years ago, was a double major in studio art and anthropology – with a minor in museum studies – at the State University of New York – College at Potsdam. She got her start at the Adirondack Museum in upstate New York, which has a large collection of historical boats (used on the hundreds of natural lakes in the Adirondacks) and features local mountain history.

Contributor: Pat Poston

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Friday, February 22, 2008

About our blog

Preserving Our Past is a blog produced by volunteers of Destination Cleveland County.

DCC’s mission is to unite the history, heritage, culture, and arts of Cleveland County, N. C., to create a vibrant economy via cultural tourism – “embracing the future and preserving the past.”
As part of that, DCC’s History Committee has committed to undertake the inventorying and organization of the thousands of historical artifacts remaining at the old courthouse building at the center of downtown Shelby, N.C. The artifacts were collected there – many donated by local citizens – for a former museum now closed.

Those of us engaged in this Historic County Courthouse Collection Preservation Project are finding the work challenging, stimulating, a little dusty, and downright fun. It’s a pleasure to join with other volunteers on courthouse workdays in discovering and documenting treasures of the past – from the mundane to the momentous.

We hope this blog will be a dialogue. We will share news and events, perspectives, and stories about our volunteers and other helpers, what we are finding, and the bits of history we uncover. We hope you will provide us comments and stories, too. And if you’d like to take part in DCC’s projects, please telephone 704.487.6233 for information about becoming involved as a volunteer.

Sherry Grenier and Millie Wood of Shelby, N. C., are co-chairs of the History Committee, and Pat Poston of Kings Mountain, N. C., is administrator/editor and a contributing writer for this blog. From time to time, other volunteers will contribute postings as well. Our Blog Team will welcome your comments and suggestions. Contact us at

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Project inventories, organizes artifacts

An estimated 10,000 historical artifacts such as those laid out here belong to Cleveland County’s people. They are located in the former county courthouse building standing in the center of Shelby, N. C.

Dusty and silent, they’ve been locked away for years since the former historical museum housed there was closed. Its handwritten accession registers list a bit of their history – who donated them, when, and sometimes a hint of their significance.

County governmental leaders have taken what steps they could to protect the artifacts. For instance, they’ve seen that the old courthouse roof is in good repair, to avoid water leak damage, and kept on the lights and necessary heat and air.

And now, through a community effort, work is underway to inventory, organize, and care for the artifacts (both objects and archives/documents), toward a day they tell their stories once again.

The History Committee of Destination Cleveland County (DCC) has undertaken a voluntary project with the overarching mission:

To preserve, inventory, and provide access to every object and archive in the historic county courthouse for the citizens of Cleveland County and all other interested parties.

The work of the committee is addressing some serious objectives:

--Ensuring proper care and management of the collection of artifacts, which might be in jeopardy and deteriorate without attention.

--Identifying and inventorying these historical treasures that belong to Cleveland County's citizens.

--Providing ways for citizens to have access to these artifacts, now closed away unseen.

The not-for-profit DCC envisions a time when the artifacts are not only properly preserved but also undergird exhibits, interactive displays, and educational programming in the historic courthouse building revitalized as the Earl Scruggs Center – Stories and Songs of the Carolina Foothills. Another goal is to computerize photographs or scans of all artifacts, with cataloguing details about them, so they can readily be viewed and located. And to eventually enlarge the public’s access to them by “virtual museum” on the Internet.

Inventorying and preparing items for proper storage are the first steps in this major undertaking. These steps have been underway since August 2006 and quite likely will take many months more.

The History Committee engaged professional expertise to help it plan and organize the detailed inventorying processes for objects and archives. At their center is a museum-standard cataloguing methodology, and at their heart is a growing group of volunteers who turn out for Saturday “workdays” at the old courthouse.

On a typical workday, a volunteer might report at 9:00 am, pick up a stack of Object Catalog Worksheet forms and a sharp pencil, choose an artifact from the “to be processed” box, and set out to document it by filling in as many of the 22 blanks on the form as possible. With luck, the artifact will have an accession number on it and a record of its source or donor can be found in the former museum’s handwritten registers. The volunteer documents that, but goes further and assigns the item its proper museum standard classification – sort of like the standard way libraries classify books. Then comes detailed description – how the item looks, its dimensions, its color, its maker and provenance (if known), its condition, and more. Then it’s on to the next object.

Completed forms are turned in to be computerized by another volunteer, using Past Perfect museum collection management software.

Once documented, objects are temporarily prepared for storage and organized in the old courtroom upstairs, laid out on benches according to classification. When plans for the building’s renovation proceed, the artifacts will be taken offsite for safety.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Detailed processes used for inventory

Several process steps are involved in inventorying the two types of artifacts in the historic county courthouse collection – those that are “objects” and those that are “archives” (typically paper documents).

Process for objects

--An Object Catalog Worksheet with 22 items to note for each object is completed in as much detail as possible for proper inventory purposes.

--Using the number which should be affixed to each item, the object is referenced to the original acquisition registers used in the former Cleveland County Historical Museum. If there is information in the register beyond accession number, date, and donor, that additional information is added to the Worksheet.

--Each object is referenced to the original nomenclature used in the former museum to identify classification and object name. In addition, the now-standard classification and name are looked up in reference works and identified on the Worksheet.

--The individual completed Worksheet for each object is placed in a notebook, grouped by the years in which the objects were acquired by the former museum and placed in accession number order.

--Each object whose Worksheet is completed is placed upstairs in the former courtroom in groups according to their classification.

--A photograph is taken of each object with the accession number of the object visible. A back-up copy of each photograph is stored on a disk.

--Each object’s Worksheet information is inputted into a computer with the assistance of Past Perfect (museum collection software) for further reference, location, and identification.

--Photographs are uploaded into the Past Perfect software for further reference and identification.

--Each object is properly stored with regard to the specific preservation need (e.g., acid-free paper).

Process for archives

--Each archive is to be identified in detail and stored in an acid-free folder. Each folder will be placed in a box according to the subject of the archive. Each box will have a list of the archives with the name and description of each archive.

--Each archive’s information will be inputted into the Past Perfect software.

--A scan of each archive will be completed and uploaded into the Past Perfect software. A backup copy of each archive will be stored on a disk.

--Each archive will be properly stored with regard to specific preservation need (e.g., acid-free folders, box off of floor).

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