Chapel Hill News

Words ‘Confederate Memorial’ to remain on Hillsborough museum building for now

rwillett@newsobserver.com

The words “Confederate Memorial” will remain, for now, above the front door to the Orange County Historical Museum at 201 N. Churton St.

Hillsborough’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 this week not to let the Historical Foundation of Hillsborough and Orange County remove the words from the town-owned building

The board wants to learn more about what would take its place, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said, but members are “not divided in making sure we conserve this history and in making sure it’s available for the public.”

“Hillsborough is very thoughtful about its history, and it means something to us,” Stevens said.

While the board’s discussion followed the fatal shooting of nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church, the plan to remove the words started 33 years ago, said executive director Candace Midgett, who discussed the museum’s plans in an online statement (nando.com/1f5).

The museum wants its name on the building, she explained, and the chance to make its own history. The museum’s only sign now is a placard near the street.

The historic corner of West Tryon and North Churton streets has been many things, Midgett said. It’s rooted in the 1800s, when it was home to St. Matthew’s Church and hosted the N.C. Constitutional Convention of 1788, where leaders at the time voted not to ratify the state’s Constitution.

The Presbyterian Session House occupied the spot after 1810, offering Sunday school and a meeting place, and in 1910, it became the town’s library.

The current structure was built in 1934, using $15,466 from the federal Civil Works Administration. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who donated $7,000 to support local education and honor Confederate soldiers, named the whites-only “Confederate Memorial Library.”

When museum took the former library’s spot in 1983, its leaders asked to change the name but were allowed to remove only the word “library.”

“We’re not asking to erase history,” Midgett said. “We’re just asking (the town) to finish what (it) started.”

The museum leases the town-owned building for $1 a year and is planning to move in the next decade, she said. The building isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, has no parking and is “really not the best building for the collection to be in,” she said.

The town has spent nearly $52,000 on repairs since 2008, according to a report, and expects to spend another $15,500 this year. If the museum had not moved in, Stevens said, the town probably would have sold the building long ago.

While the words “Confederate Memorial” on the building have “enormous symbolic value,” Stevens said, he also knows people who have been “uncomfortable in there and thought it was some sort of tribute to the confederacy.”

Museum officials are only starting to consider their options but are seeking a home with secure, environmentally controlled collections storage, room for special exhibits and a comprehensive documentation of local history, and space for public programs and discussions.

The history of 201 N. Churton St. will be part of that future, Midgett said. She has contacted the state chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy to try to find out more about the original donation but has not heard back yet. The local chapter stopped meeting in the 1960s, officials said.

Colonial Inn update

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said this week he will write a letter asking the owners of the historic Colonial Inn what they plan to do with the building.

The inn, located at 153 W. King St., was built in 1838. Owner Francis Henry paid $410,000 for it in 2001 and has made some repairs over the years. The building has fallen into disrepair, however, and the community is undertaking an effort to save and rehabilitate it.

The town hired Development Finance Initiative, a group located at the UNC School of Government, earlier this year to complete a feasibility study.

DFI’s report suggested the inn could be purchased and renovated as part of a public-private partnership for roughly $3 million. The final amount could change, depending on an engineering study and future plans. DFI also suggested the inn’s best use could be as office space and a restaurant.

Henry has not commented publicly on the DFI report or his plans for the inn.

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