I hope you have heard the great news that our Civil War & Reconstruction History Center has received a $59.6 million grant from the State of North Carolina! These funds, payable over the next two years, will help create construction documents for the remainder of the project including the main facility and its exhibits, will enable the History Center to acquire artifacts, and finally will fund construction of the third and final phase of the History Center complex.
We thank you for your patience and for keeping the faith through more than a decade of planning and fundraising, the past three years of budget stalemates, and the fallout from covid-19. And we’re very grateful to our legislative delegation – Representatives John Szoka, Billy Richardson, Marvin Lucas, and Diane Wheatley and Senators Kirk DeViere and Ben Clark – who brought approximately $400 million in appropriations to Cumberland County. We thank the political and staff leadership of both the City and County for sticking with us including the City issuing a resolution of support this spring for the History Center and other critical projects at a key point in the legislative process. That made a big difference.
Of course, this year-end letter wouldn’t be complete without a plea for support at the end. But first we want to update you and remind you how far we’ve come.
A long road
It has been a long road, going back nearly 15 years when a group of local Fayetteville residents got the project off the ground by successfully securing for the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex a $1 million planning grant from the North Carolina General Assembly in 2007. The funding allowed the Museum’s Board of Directors to hire museum planners and consultants to assess existing resources, seek community-wide feedback and hold discussions, and produce strategic and programming plans for a future History Center. The Board also commissioned architectural, interpretive, and digital master plans as well as a business plan and an economic impact study that demonstrated that the new History Center would create more than 200 new permanent jobs and bring more than $18 million annually in new economic activity to our city, state, and region.
With a second grant from the State, the History Center renovated three Civil War-era buildings on the site of the Arsenal grounds to create VanStory History Village: https://nccivilwar.wpengine.com/history-village/. Phase 1, for which we held a ribbon-cutting on June 18, 2021, includes the following (click photo to enlarge):
- The Arsenal House was renovated primarily for K-12 students. It includes a classroom, a distance learning studio, and a technical support room, all part of the Digital Education Outreach Center. The Outreach Center is an online educational resource to teach the history of the period before, during, and after the Civil War to public school students across North Carolina.
- The Culbreth House was renovated for higher education purposes. It will become the Center for the Study of the Civil War and Reconstruction in North Carolina. A catering kitchen and offices were added, as was a library that will house an extensive collection of Civil War and Reconstruction books. The Culbreth House also will be home for the History Center’s Foundation.
- The Davis House will be used to help interpret the site of the former United States Arsenal (taken over by the Confederate Army and then destroyed by Gen. Sherman’s troops) where it is located.
Phase 2 (architectural drawing below) includes construction of an outdoor education pavilion and a boardwalk that will run parallel to the remains of the Arsenal.
The History Center has sponsored many lectures over the past nine years, the first in 2012 featuring Hari Jones as speaker. Mr. Jones was a prominent African American historian whose area of expertise centered on the contributions of Blacks during the Civil War. Organizers of the History Center had met him on a museum tour in Washington, DC. He became a close advisor to the History Center and lectured several times in Fayetteville.
Mr. Jones last spoke here on June 19, 2018 about Juneteenth, the celebration of the freedom of enslaved people which originated in Galveston, Texas more than two years after President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Several days after Mr. Jones’ lecture, he died of a sudden heart attack. To honor his memory and his contribution to our understanding of the African American community through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow eras, the History Center sponsors an annual Hari Jones Memorial Lecture Series.
The following year, in June 2019, we held the first lecture series. Civil rights activist and retired Guilford College history professor Dr. Adrienne Israel spoke about the Underground Railroad in North Carolina. Methodist University history professor Dr. Peter Murray, author of Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975, a history of the impact race relations and Civil Rights have made on the Methodist Church in America, spoke about slavery in North Carolina and Juneteenth.
In June 2020, the lecture series was cancelled because of covid-19. This year we invited Dr. Vernon Burton, Clemson University history professor and one of the nation’s leading experts on Abraham Lincoln, to continue our tradition of presenting a Juneteenth lecture. Dr. Burton spoke at the ribbon-cutting for Phase 1 and groundbreaking for Phase 2 held on June 18.
Other speakers in past years have included Wade Sokolosky, Frye Gaillard, Brig. Gen. (retired) Stephen Smith, Charen Fink, Philip Gerard, and Michael Allen. In 2015, with the NC African American Historical Commission and historic St. Paul AME Church in Raleigh, we sponsored a symposium on the Freedmen’s Convention of 1865, and in 2018 we hosted a teachers’ symposium at UNC Wilmington featuring Dr. David Blight, Dr. Spencer Crew, and Dr. Thavolia Glymph.
The North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Foundation was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization and has based the History Center’s development on the public-private partnership model that has succeeded across North Carolina for decades. When the facilities and grounds are complete, ownership will be transferred to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources which will operate it under its Division of Museums.
Construction and other costs have increased since our initial estimates which were in 2017 dollars. The History Center is now projected to cost $80 million. Before the State budget appropriation was announced, we had raised more than $29.5 million in local public gifts/commitments and local and statewide private gifts/pledges. More than half of those commitments is outstanding, primarily being held by the donors until construction of the main facility begins. A third of it is restricted to endowment.
Your generous donations and a small portion of the State’s $6 million in grants have invested in annual operations including overhead costs, planning and other professional fees, programs and symposia, and, since 2018, a staff member responsible for story collecting, library organization, and historical research.
The next steps for the History Center include working with the architectural firm on completing construction drawings for the 60,000-square-foot building that will be located on the Arsenal grounds. The new facility will replace the current Museum of the Cape Fear and will house large scale exhibits, an auditorium, and the History Center’s operations going forward. A café and gift shop are also in the plans.
While the exhibit designers and professional historians further develop the curriculum, we will work with individuals, genealogical societies, churches, social justice groups, and others to continue to add stories from all 100 North Carolina counties about the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
The website, now more than six years old, must be completely re-designed, as it will be the main link for North Carolina schoolteachers to access materials at the History Center. The State’s funding will allow for more concentrated outreach to similar facilities, organizations, and universities that have relevant materials centering on the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods in North Carolina.
The focus of the History Center is to look at the Civil War and Reconstruction as they affected North Carolina. We were divided then, and we are divided now. Examining what led to those divisions – and how the state and its citizens were affected by the War and its aftermath – can provide us a context with which we can examine today’s challenges. All are welcome here. Our theme has always been: Tell us your story, so that we may learn from you and so we can see how your story fits into the overall history as written by scholars and historians. We’re here to find a way to build a more perfect Union.
We need your help
Through all these years, private donations from people like you have kept the dream alive of creating this new, one-of-a-kind History Center. We can now say with certainty that your investment is about to pay off manyfold.
Your continued financial support will help us make the transition from a staff and programs that are primarily funded through private monies to becoming a fully State-supported institution. The next 36 months are going to be challenging as we manage the finalization of plans, the design of the exhibits, and the construction of the building. We anticipate that the State again will provide a small portion of its appropriation for operations. But it won’t cover everything. We must continue to raise funds for the History Center’s operations and for its future programming, because we believe education is a worthwhile investment both for our community and the state of North Carolina.
Some of you may have been reluctant to contribute, unsure that this dream would really become a reality. We hope the State support answers that question!
If you prefer to make an online donation, you can do so by clicking on the “Donate Now” button at this secure link: https://nccivilwar.wpengine.com/join/gifts-pledges/
If you prefer mail, or if you wish to make a three-year pledge or a donation in someone’s honor or memory, please email us at nccivilwarcenter (at) gmail (dot) com to request a pledge card and return envelope. For a more substantial gift, we would love to talk with you about the donor recognition possibilities that remain, starting at $1,500 for a seat “name” in the auditorium. Your gift will come at a critical time, ensuring that this new History Center is all that it can be. We will be very grateful!
If you have any questions, I hope you will not hesitate to contact me via email or by phone. Many thanks for all you have done to support the History Center!
Our best wishes to you and your family for a joyous holiday season,
John M. “Mac” Healy, Chair, Board of Directors
mhealy (at) healywholesale (dot) com or 910-977-0287 (c)