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What started as snippets of Beaufort's past, salvaged and sorted from a decaying collection, will become a learning center for residents and visitors when it opens this spring, officials said Thursday.
"We were all very concerned that this collection get back out in the public eye," said Katherine Lang, who has been part of a committee dedicated to opening the Beaufort History Museum.
The center could open as early as March, although an April or May date is more likely, she said. The committee held its first annual meeting Thursday at City Hall and discussed plans for the future.
Museum members elected Lang president, Mary Lou Brewton vice president, Alvestra Robertson secretary and Harry Chakides treasurer.
More than a year ago, a city-commissioned report found that many pieces in the collection had deteriorated beyond repair after years of neglect. A small group of volunteers approached city officials and asked for permission to manage the collection.
Museum officials are not allowing sneak peeks of the collection and gallery now. Donna Smith Alley, historic preservation planner for the city, said items will be grouped in exhibits according to era in the 3,500-square-foot space on the first floor of City Hall. Among the collection are Native American artifacts, items from many of the wars the United States has fought and period clothing such as a dress embroidered with human hair.
The city has assisted with some of the work, although the majority has been done by volunteers who have spent countless hours working with archeologists and historians to sort, catalog and assess the value of the collection.
"There's a lot of these things people haven't seen in a while," Alley said.
In honor of friends Michi and Frank DeSola, who moved to Beaufort from New York, Steve Leverton made a $25,000 donation to get the museum started.
"They were wonderful people who loved Beaufort and loved what it was and loved the history of it, and I just think it's a fitting memorial," he said.
A museum honoring and capturing Beaufort's history is fitting and appropriate, Mayor Billy Keyserling said. He said it would be embarrassing to be mayor of a city with such a long history and so little to show. He sees the museum's start as a step toward eventually creating a larger museum and learning center.
"To me, what you all have done is the little launching pad," he said.