North Carolina from waaaay back

Exhibit starts with 12,000 B.C.

Staff writerApril 10, 2011 

  • The first part of the N.C. Museum of History's "The Story of North Carolina" exhibit, covering prehistory to the 1830s, opens Saturday. It is a permanent exhibit.

    When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

    Where: 5. E. Edenton St., Raleigh. Parking is available in the surface lot across Wilmington Street from the museum.

    Cost: Admission is free.

    More information: 807-7900 or ncmuseumofhistory.org

You live in North Carolina. But do you really know North Carolina?

The N.C. Museum of History in downtown Raleigh is hoping to introduce visitors to the state, whether for the first time or all over again, with its new permanent exhibit, "The Story of North Carolina."

It's a story that goes way back - some of the exhibit's earliest pieces are stone tools dating from 12,000 B.C. - and moves through 14,000 years of history to show how we got to where we are today.

The story will unfold in two parts. The first opens Saturday and spans prehistory to the 1830s. Part two, featuring North Carolina's more modern history, opens in November. The entire exhibit will cover 20,000 square feet, making it the museum's main attraction.

"It's going to be our centerpiece exhibit, the one all the schoolchildren will be coming to see probably for the next 15, 20 years," said RoAnn Bishop, one of the exhibit's curators.

The exhibit includes pieces that are new to the museum, as well as some "oldies but goodies," Bishop said. Those goodies include a 1583 English coin found on Roanoke Island and a cannon and other booty from the Queen Anne's Revenge, the pirate Blackbeard's ship.

You'll find the names of famous North Carolinians throughout the exhibit, but you'll also get a taste of the lives of regular folks.

"We've tried to not only tell stories that people might not be that familiar with, but we've also made a concerted effort to include everyday people," Bishop said. "Not just the outstanding, wealthy, prominent, politically important people, but the everyday people that were the bulk of North Carolina."

"The Story of North Carolina" aims to immerse visitors in the state's history by going beyond items under glass and explanatory placards. The exhibit features audio/visual presentations galore and interactive displays that let visitors pull a bucket from a well or milk a model cow to get a taste of farm life.

There are also replicas, including an American Indian dwelling and portions of the state's fourth-oldest existing house, which was built in 1742 in Pitt County.

The exhibit's size isn't the only thing that might catch the eye of a visitor who hasn't been to the history museum in a while. "I think they'll be surprised when they first enter the gallery about how far our history actually goes back," Bishop said.

The exhibit covers a lot of time and it covers a lot of history, she said, adding, "This will be the only place in North Carolina where you can see an exhibit about the complete history of North Carolina that will be a permanent exhibit. We cover about 14,000 years of history, and no place else that we know of does that."

stacy.chandler@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4830

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