Museum of Southampton History to be demolished, rebuilt

Published 5:40 pm Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Southampton County Historical Society is in the midst of moving artifacts out of the Museum of Southampton History so that the museum building can be demolished and then rebuilt on nearly the same footprint.

Historical Society President Lynda T. Updike indicated that the society is following through with a plan conceived by architect Gerald Traub, who had been brought in to look at the existing museum building.

“In the conversation with the architect, we were told that it was cheaper to tear down and rebuild than to try to fix everything that’s wrong,” Updike said.

Clyde Parker, who serves on the executive board of the historical society, said that the history of the museum building goes back to the 1950s, and he confirmed that it was built as a car dealership. He said it was a DeSoto automobile dealership and was owned by D.C. Magette.

Parker was unsure how many other businesses may have inhabited the space, but it was the home of Blount Electric prior to being that of the museum, which is why the structure is still known to many now as “the Blount building.”

Updike said the historical society has a “guesstimate” on how much the demolish-and-rebuild project will cost, “and it’s a million dollars-plus.”

“We have raised a lot of that money, and it’s through the generosity of individuals, companies, foundations,” she said, adding that a couple of people have donated stocks from the stock market as well.

Updike confirmed that the historical society is close to raising the million-plus needed. Donations to the society are tax deductible, as it is a 501(c) (3) organization. It serves as the umbrella organization over the Museum of Southampton History, the Rebecca Vaughan House, the Southampton Agriculture and Forestry Museum, and the Rochelle-Prince House.

TIMETABLE FOR THE DEMOLITION

Updike said she and fellow members of the historical society were hoping the demolition would have happened before now, but the process of moving artifacts out of the existing building has proven to be a lengthy one.

“We had so much history packed in that building that had to be packed up, the (military) uniforms have to be cleaned and preserved, and in the archives room, we had so many documents that were saved,” she said. “We had four fireproof files, the big four-drawer files, legal size, and we had to get so much stuff filed, so much stuff boxed up and so much stuff moved.”

Artifacts are being moved to two storage units in Courtland.

“Both of them are over half-full each,” Updike said. “It’s just taken time, and if our museum people had nothing else to do, we could get it done tomorrow, but we’re all volunteers, and we work as hard as we can work.”

As a result, she affirmed that it is unknown exactly when the demolition will happen.

DETAILS ON THE REBUILDING

Updike said she was unsure how long the rebuilding of the museum will take, but she estimated “about a year.”

She said the historical society has an architectural plan.

“We know what we want and what kind of roof and what kind of siding and that sort of thing, and it will have a front porch so that if a school busload of kids comes up and it’s raining, they can wait on that porch without having to wait out in the rain as they come in the building,” she said.

The new museum building will look distinctly different from the existing one.

“It won’t look like a car dealership,” Updike said.

She noted that it will have a largely similar footprint to the existing structure, but it will move a bit on the property.

“It will be a little bit toward Franklin from that site so that the Rebecca Vaughan House will be more visible,” she said.

She confirmed, however, that the rebuilt museum will have the same Courtland address — 22541 Linden St.

Then she shared some details on the planned internal layout of the new building.

“There will be a path,” she said. “Visitors will come in the Museum of Southampton History, and the exhibits will be in chronological order, for lack of a better term. And as (visitors) work around, they will get to the back door, which will house the Nat Turner sword and the other Nat Turner artifacts in an exhibit, and they will exit that door and (go) through a walkway to the Rebecca Vaughan House.”

As for who will handle the construction of the new museum building, Updike said, “We have talked to contractors, but nothing is signed.”