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The front door of the old white church requires a proper body slam or jiggle to open. Inside, visitors can find a World War I dog tag, photographs of an oyster factory shanty and shark teeth the size of baseball mits.'
These bits of history dot the museum in The Union Church in Port Royal.'
The Historic Port Royal Foundation, founded in 1976 to restore and protect historical and architectural gems in the area, runs the museum from the room behind the church's sanctuary. '
Foundation members know there are more artifacts around town, and they want to add to them their collection.'
"We would accept anything of interest to Port Royal," said Leila Stevens, the tour guide and lecturer at the museum.'
Louis Bruce, Historic Port Royal Foundation treasurer, said the foundation recently hired Stevens permanently. Stevens is at the museum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.'
Stevens said Historic Port Royal Foundation wants to expand the collected history of Port Royal, replace any missing leaded glass, acquire a nearby lot for parking and maintain the 130-year-old church.'
The Union Church was built in 1878 on an 11th Street lot donated by D.F. Appleton. The church was active until the mid-1970s, shared by Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, who rotated Sundays.'
The different denominations each outgrew the building and built their own respective churches, Stevens said.'
The museum exhibits form a collage of information about Port Royal's mayors, industries, post offices and residents collected from donated artifacts found in attics and family albums.'
The church has been used as a theater, meeting place and office space. It can be rented for weddings, plays or receptions.'
A glass display case holds photographs of several former mayors, as well as current Mayor Sam Murray.'
Along the back wall are photographs grouped and labeled, "shrimpin," "crabbin" and "oysterin."'
"Port Royal is very much a little seafood town. Right now is the slackest time Port Royal's had," Stevens said. The town was founded in 1562 and '
incorporated in 1874.'
The walls also hold aged photos of buildings such as Dr. Cope's Drug Store, which is now a private home on Eighth Street, and Port Royal Elementary School, the oldest active school in Beaufort County which was founded in 1911. '
The church is owned by the town of Port Royal, but run by the Historic Port Royal Foundation, which finished restoration in 2004. Members of the Foundation volunteered to refurbish the pews, seat cushions and paint. Stevens said she was unsure how long the church was in the town's possession.'
With its collection of local history, Bruce thinks the Union Church would make a good visitors center.'
"It'd be perfect," he said, especially if they add a parking lot under the trees, Bruce said.'
The number of visitors continues to grow. Last year, 496 people visited the museum, compared with 145 in 2004, when the restoration was completed and the museum opened.