Georgetown County Museum set to reopen

  • Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chris Sokoloski/Times One of the Georgetown County Museum’s most precious artifacts, a letter from the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, is now housed inside a special case to protect it from light, and locked inside a cabinet.


The dream of a new home for the Georgetown County Museum becomes a reality this week as The History Center opens in downtown Georgetown.

Along with the museum, the center is also home to the Georgetown County Historical Society and the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival. The Society created the festival in 2007 to raise money for the museum's new home, although at the time, nobody knew where that would be.

The History Center is at 120 Broad St. The transformation of the building began in the spring of 2012, and the museum began the move from its Prince Street location last year.

Museum director Jill Santopietro loves the new location because it's “right in the thick of things.”

The wish for more foot traffic has already been realized, as people have been stopping by in the past few weeks as Santopietro and her staff have been putting the finishing touches on the exhibits in anticipation of Friday's grand opening.

“We want people to treat this museum and the Historical Society that's in the building as a gateway to the other historical opportunities in our county,” Santopietro said.

The History Center is three times as large as the museum's old home, with twice as much gallery space.

The first floor contains an exhibit gallery, gift shop, kitchen area for the staff and volunteers to use, offices, and a room where visitors can wait for docent-led tours or get information on other historical sites in the county.

The walls of the gallery contain a timeline of Georgetown County's history plus a few artifacts.

“We chose some select, special artifacts that we [placed] around the edges of the room,” Santopietro said.

The center of the room is mostly open, perfect for chairs for people to sit on and listen to a speaker, or tables for people to sit around for conferences or special events. The room already hosted a birthday party last month, during which the caterer used the staff kitchen.

Hanging from the ceiling is an antique 17-foot, hand-made canoe, which was found on the banks of the Waccamaw River. It is one of the last things moved from the old location.

The canoe trip was the second most worrisome artifact transport for Santopietro. Only moving a more than 250-year-old slave-made cabinet caused more trepidation.

“We were gentle and it made the move without any stress of strain, as far as we can tell,” Santopietro said.

The majority of artifacts await visitors in the second-floor exhibit gallery, which has been dubbed “History, Heroes and Treasures.”

In the old museum, artifacts were arranged chronologically. With a timeline on the first floor, Santopietro and Susan Sawyer, who helped design the layout, decided to go with themed displays. The themes include: the beaches, the seaport and shrimping industry, the rice industry, a walk down Front Street, Native Americans, growing up in Georgetown, and the military.

Santopietro said Sawyer was the “the driving force behind the visual presentation” of the second floor.

Sawyer created paper cutouts of the “footprints” of all the display cases, and then she and Santopietro put them on the floor and started moving them around until everything fit.

“We brought all those pieces and dragged them around the floor until we found a way that they worked,” Santopietro said. “It's as if they selected their own spots.”

Items to look for on the second floor include:

A letter from Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, which is now housed in a case to protect it from light;

A saber from 1848, which has an antique label that is now also an artifact, and a piece of a flag that flew over Fort Sumter;

A medicine cabinet from the office of Dr. Frances Doyle, Georgetown's first female pediatrician, who practiced for 32 years and was “beloved,” according to Santopietro; Two sets of silver crafted in Georgetown in the late 1700s;

A 1749 drawing of the Historic District with the names of all the people who had already built homes.

Not everything in the museum is hundreds of years old, or has huge historical significance. There are also items that will tug at local heart strings, like memorabilia from Howard, Winyah and Choppee high schools, and old pictures of soldiers and sailors.

“There are items of common life, as well as special treasures,” Santopietro said.

As the grand opening approaches, Santopietro and Sawyer are still “tweaking” displays.

Santopietro recently invited her volunteer docents to tour the exhibits and make suggestions. Several asked that specific artifacts that weren't on display be brought out because they knew their history or were integral to stories they told during tours.

Friday's grand opening kicks off at 4 p.m. with a ribbon cutting and a performance by the Georgetown County School District's BEACH Singers. Once the formalities are done, everyone will be invited in to tour to new space.

Santopietro is hoping to see a lot of locals on Friday.

“This has really been done with the community in mind as well as visitors,” she said. “We're looking to get feedback from our community and for them to see what this has evolved and grown into with their support.”

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