Historical society gets parking, growing room

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

COURTLAND—Leaders from the Southampton County Historical Society hope they have found a solution to the biggest problem they face during the two annual festivals they hold on the grounds of the county’s Agricultural and Forestry Museum.

Anyone who has visited the site of Down Home Day in the spring or Heritage Day in the fall will have noticed that parking is limited in the society’s field across the street.

Anyone who has visited one of those events during the peak hours of the day very likely will have had to park along the side of a nearby street and hoof it over to the event.

With the purchase of more than seven acres of property behind the society’s Museum of Southampton History, adjacent to the field it already fills with cars a couple of times a year, leaders hope they are about to get the parking problems under control.

&uot;It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,&uot; said Lynda Updike, president of the historical society, who said the group plans to clear the trees that cover the property and then grade it and use it for overflow parking during big events.

The group received the deed to the property last month. Representatives made a deal with the former owner, Hyla Properties LLC, to pay the $90,000 purchase price over

five years, Updike said.

The property can serve a variety of uses in the years to come, she said, noting that the group’s long-term plans are flexible. But extra parking is the most critical need, right now, as the group works to complete restoration of the Rebecca Vaughan House, which sits on adjacent property.

The goal is to have that work completed in 2011, in time for the 180th anniversary of Nat Turner’s slave insurrection, which resulted in the death of the home’s namesake, along with 56 other white residents of

Southampton County and, eventually, dozens of black residents, including many who were not involved in the murders.

The Rebecca Vaughan House has been the focus of the historical society’s recent efforts, Updike said. Members of a committee have been meeting with a Raleigh, N.C., architect to iron out details of a contract for the necessary design work associated with the project.

Architect Gerald Traub, Updike said, came &uot;very highly recommended by people in North Carolina.&uot;

As that project begins to come together, members hope to be able to move their attention to the nearby historical museum, which currently is a museum in name only, having been used most recently for storage of items that are now located in the newest Agricultural Museum building.

Though the building stands mostly empty now, Updike and others have big plans to use it as a place to spotlight the lives of Turner and Civil War Gens. William Mahone and George H. Thomas.

&uot;It will be a building that tells us the story of Southampton County,&uot; she said. The recent land purchase should help assure that visitors have a place to park when they come to town to learn that story.