When floods damaged artifacts at a farming museum in Windsor last week, a little-known team of state preservationists went to work trying to save history.
The Cashie River flooded parts of the Bertie County town – about 120 miles east of Raleigh – as 17 inches of rain fell within a 72-hour period. Among the downtown buildings affected was the Craftsman and Farmers Museum, which is housed in a historic former stable.
Four feet of water pooled in the building at the peak of the storm, soaking much of its collection of antique tools and farming equipment. The museum is operated by the town government without professional staff, so the mayor contacted the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for help with the damage.
The state sent six staffers from the Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team, which responds to disasters at historic sites, museums and libraries across the state.
“When the flood waters receded, it looked awful,” Mayor Jim Hoggard said. “A lot of those tools were steel, and they would rust immediately in all that dirty water.”
Adding to the water damage, part of the building’s floor was covered in wood chips that coated artifacts when the water rose. Mold was already starting to grow on a century-old leather saddle by the time the state crew arrived.
The state preservationists used brushes and vacuums to dry off the artifacts, adding isopropyl alcohol when needed.
“I think that everything could go back to exhibitable condition,” said Adrienne Berney, outreach coordinator at the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “People usually think things that are flooded are just a total loss. Depending on the material, there’s a lot you can do to salvage it.”
The state team is recommending that the town of Windsor take steps to prevent future flood damage because the downtown area has flooded three times in the past 17 years.
“If they’re going to continue to have a museum there, they need to think about changing their flooring,” Berney said.
The Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team is activated roughly once a year, typically to deal with flooding or other water damage. The group includes curators, archivists and building conservation experts who work for state agencies.
“It’s a way that we can provide some tangible support to some of these smaller sites,” Berney said.
Elsewhere in downtown Windsor, clean-up efforts from the flood are continuing, and Hoggard says he expects most businesses will be able to reopen within the next month.
Crews have already removed the debris piled up along the town’s main street that had caused it to look “like a war zone,” the mayor said.
“Most (businesses) are going to reopen, but I know of some that aren’t coming back,” he added.
Windsor’s other downtown attraction, a mini-zoo, will be reopening soon now that the animals are back in their cages and pens. During the flood, three buffalo were spotted walking down a street.