Can we afford (not to have) a museum?
EDITORIAL: A Museum? A Way Forward?
Historic-tourism in Laurens County will take a giant step forward this summer when The Witherspoon Building new home of the Laurens County Museum opens for business. A “soft opening” was staged this past Sunday, and there are concrete plans for having the building open for business.
A generous $1 Million gift has boosted the Museum to its progress, thus far, as well as hundreds of local, private donors who want to see History Preserved in Laurens County. The question now for Clinton is, will this city join in or be in danger of being left behind?
Supporters of the Laurens County Museum have said consistently, “This is Laurens COUNTY’s Museum.”
They want Clinton involved. But they cannot take the full contents of the defunct Clinton Museum as part of their own collection. It’s just too overwhelming, what with the items they are dealing with in the Laurens Street Museum location, also. Nor should Clinton want to give away its relics - many need a display home of their own, right here.
Enter, the MS Bailey Municipal Center. Once the City decided not to move forward with a separate Welcome Center - buying a bank instead and moving utilities billings and collections there, to take advantage of a drive-through window - the space dedicated for that purpose on the first floor of the Municipal Center became available. There is a small Textiles Museum adjoining this space, but it is static. Its exhibits never change.
Since 2016, no one has had the chance to use the Clinton Museum. We remember, fondly, the Christmas punch and cookies on the porch - looking across the street at the holiday window display of the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy, a former Clinton hotel. We remember the horse-drawn carriages stopping there. We remember The Clinton Chronicle display that the museum’s former director Elaine Thorpe arranged to have in the front room. We remember a Small College Football display.
And, we remember, what made these moments special was the fact that the displays changed - they were not static. Somethings remained - a large train set in the front parlor, for instance, an homage to Clinton’s status as a major railway hub for South Carolina. All this is gone, locked up tight.
The City of Clinton is looking to re-activate this, and join the growing trend toward promoting Historic-Tourism. We have the perfect place for it at Musgrove Mill State Historic Site. But if someone, or a family, is going to spend a week’s vacation learning the history of this corner of South Carolina, they are going to need multiple sites. They are going to need Durant Ashmore’s wonderful lectures. They are going to need access to the Laurens County Historic Books. They are going to need access to Presbyterian College’s archive. They are going to need to actually RIDE a train.
We hope the City of Clinton can join this effort. The most expeditious way is to establish a Clinton Museum Foundation, and start raising money. This is not an effort that should be tax-driven - we need that money for police and fire, water and sewer. But if people want to see their history come alive, it would be in our best interest to give them a place to make donations to that effort. We need a curator, and this is where a partnership with the Laurens County Museum could be most helpful. PC is committed to student-service - use that resource, also.
We applaud the Clinton City Council for not abandoning a museum. Assistant City Manager Thomas Higgs told us recently:
“We still have a lot of Museum items in there and we want to make sure those items are taken care of. Along with that, we’ve done an inventory of all the items. During the last workshop, council tasked the City Manager’s office to see if there were any deed restrictions on the property; what our options are with the property? They further tasked us with talking with the Laurens County Museum to see if they would be interested in taking over the exhibit for the City of Clinton, so it could be a unified museum. That hasn’t happened yet, because we are looking at the property first. Laurens County has done a great job with their museum - could we partner with them to make it even better?. We’re in an exploratory stage now. There is a lot of great stuff over there and we want to let people enjoy it.”
This is a good start, but we would be neglectful if we did not point out, this is a step 4 years in the making. The longer we wait, the more tourism dollars slip away.