News Release:  November 19, 2021

Toward A More Perfect Union

North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center included in state budget for $59.6 million

FAYETTEVILLE NC – Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed into law a state budget that invests $59.6 million in the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, following bipartisan support from both House and Senate lawmakers in the Cumberland County delegation.

“In a word, we are thankful,” said John M. “Mac” Healy of Fayetteville, chairman of the Center’s board of directors. “This shows the value in everyone pulling together in the same direction, no matter what their party affiliation is, for the good of all of the citizens of Cumberland County and indeed, all of North Carolina.”

The state funding will enable the Center to begin construction and to continue its work of designing the exhibits and developing the Center’s content.

Healy said that he is especially thankful for the county’s delegation, led by Republicans Rep. John Szoka and Diane Wheatley and Democrats Rep. Billy Richardson (who chairs the delegation) and Sen. Kirk DeViere, who spearheaded efforts to gain state funding for worthy projects in Cumberland County, especially in the area of education. Educational projects that received funding, in addition to the Center, included $160 million for Fayetteville State University and $13 million for Fayetteville Technical Community College.

Other members of the delegation, including Rep. Marvin W. Lucas, D-Cumberland and Sen. Ben Clark, D-Cumberland, voted for the budget with their leadership, making it a unanimous vote among all Cumberland County representatives.

Healy said he is also thankful for the support of local elected officials at the city and county levels – and with the work of donors from across North Carolina who have become aware of the Center’s vision and who have signed on to be a part of it.

“This is one of the biggest appropriations in the history of Cumberland County and it represents the opportunity of a lifetime for us, for all of us,” said Healy. “This is an investment in education, which does more to strengthen a community than any other investment you could make.”

Since its beginnings, the Center has been a not-for-profit and based on the public-private partnership model that has been used successfully across North Carolina for decades.

When will it be built?

Planners estimate that it will take more than a year to prepare construction drawings and develop exhibits. Groundbreaking is expected in July 2023; construction is expected to take approximately 18 months. The grand opening is planned for April 2025.

If built as envisioned, the Center will cost an estimated $80 million.  Before this year’s state budget appropriation, the Center has raised or gotten commitments for more than $33 million so far. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Private fundraising – $14,520,154.26.
  • City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County have each agreed to provide $7.5 million.
  • State of North Carolina – original planning grant of $1 million; Phases 1 and 2, $5 million.

These figures represent what’s been raised – along with funds anticipated to be earmarked for the Center – but not what has been spent thus far. The figures do not count the $5 million spent on Phase 1 and the investments since 2007 on operations, fund raising and planning costs.

Nor does it include the plus side of the ledger, including $10.1 million that the Center has on hand. Those funds are restricted to the endowment and the value of Gettysburg Cyclorama, which was donated

As with each project that is funded by the State of North Carolina, the Center has been regularly – and successfully – audited.

“We will continue to raise funds for the Center, because it is a worthwhile investment both for our community and the state of North Carolina,” said Healy.

Research shows that once completed, the Center will contribute 200 new jobs and $18 million in economic benefit to Fayetteville every year. It will be owned and operated by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as part of its state Division of Museums.

Next steps

Healy said the state’s appropriation doesn’t mean the job is over. The next steps for the Center include working with the architecture firm on completing construction drawings for the 60,000-square-foot building that is planned for the grounds of the former Fayetteville Federal Arsenal in Haymount.

Plans are for that building to replace the current Museum of the Cape Fear and house large scale exhibits, an auditorium and the Center’s operations going forward.

Planners will also be working with the exhibit designer and professional historians on further development of the curriculum; and working with individuals, genealogical societies, churches, social justice groups and others to gather stories from the Civil War and Reconstruction period from families in all 100 North Carolina counties.

The website, now six years old, must be completely re-designed, as it will be the main link for North Carolina schoolteachers to access materials at the Center. The state’s funding also now allows for more concentrated outreach to similar facilities, organizations and universities that have relevant materials centering on the antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction eras in North Carolina.

Healy said the effort is well worthwhile.

“The point of the Center is to look at the Civil War as it affected North Carolina,” said Healy. “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 academic experts. We’re here to find a way to build a more perfect Union.”

Center’s progress to the present

The mission of the Center is to tell the stories of ALL North Carolinians and create a comprehensive, fact-based portrait of history that spans the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods.

Using current interpretive technologies and anticipating trends that will be available at the time of its completion, the Center’s planning committee envisions a state-of-the-art institution that embraces a historic site, a facility that conveys the significance of its historic charter and a digital dimension that extends its reach across North Carolina.

Part of its efforts have been to gather oral histories of people, places and events, told and retold down through the generations of what the state was like before, during and after the Civil War. The Center is still seeking these stories, not only about the experiences of both Union and Confederate soldiers on the battlefield, but from those left back home: The women, children, elderly, farmers and businessmen, Native Americans, African-Americans, the freed and enslaved and those of all faiths.

Additionally, the Center is collecting peer-reviewed research from history professors within the University of North Carolina system and other academic institutions, which will be used to write a Civil War history curriculum for the NC Department of Public Instruction, for use by schoolchildren. In North Carolina, the Civil War is taught in public schools to fourth and eighth grade students and included in U.S. history courses in the eleventh grade. Students and teachers from Manteo to Murphy will be able to access course materials online from the Center.

So far, the Center has built the VanStory History Village on the site, developed curricula and lesson plans, posted the first of many lessons, historical events and mini-biographies of North Carolina notable figures; along with family stories from the Civil War on the New History Observer section of its website; sponsored an educational symposium in Wilmington; and met with the statewide organization of social services teachers in Greensboro.

The Center has also sponsored a number of lectures, including, most notably, the Hari Jones Memorial Lecture Series.  Jones was a prominent African American historian whose area of expertise centered on the contribution of Blacks during the Civil War. He was first heard by organizers of the Center as they visited museums in Washington, DC. He became a close advisor to the Center and spoke several times in Fayetteville.

In June 2018, Jones last spoke in Fayetteville about Juneteenth, an observance of when slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation. Several days later, Jones died of a sudden heart attack in Washington. The Center decided to honor his memory and his contribution to our understanding of the African American community during the Civil War and afterward, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, by sponsoring the Hari Jones Memorial Lecture series.

The following year, in June 2019, the first Hari Jones Memorial Lecture was held. 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 NC and Juneteenth.

In June 2020, the lecture was cancelled because of Covid.

In June 2021, Dr. Vernon Burton, professor of history at Clemson University and author of “The Age Of Lincoln, along with a recently released book on race and the Supreme Court, re-started the lecture series with a keynote address at the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting of Phases 1` and 2 of the Center.

The history behind the History Center

A group of local Fayetteville residents originally got the project off the ground by successfully getting a $1 million planning grant from the N.C. General Assembly in 2007. With the funding, over the next few years, the board hired Germann & Associates, the Winslow Group and the Planning Edge, all of which have experience in museum startups, to assess existing resources, pursue community wide feedback and discussions and come up with a strategic and programming plan.

In addition to the programming and educational content mentioned earlier, the Center has constructed the VanStory History Village on the site of the Arsenal grounds.

The Village includes:

  • The Arsenal House, which 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 equipment within the distance learning studio is superior to that currently used by UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University and is on par with the equipment used by SAS Institute in Cary.)
  • The Culbreth House, which 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 upstairs offices were added, as was a library, which will house an extensive collection of Civil War and Reconstruction books. It will be used as the offices for the Center’s Foundation.
  • The Davis House will be used to help interpret the site of the U.S. Arsenal (later a Confederate Arsenal), where it is situated.

Phase 2, still to be constructed, consists of a new outdoor education pavilion and the construction of a boardwalk which will run parallel to the remains of the Arsenal.

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