Pennies potentially could add up for Newberry County Museum

According to Englishman Thomas Fuller (1661), a penny saved is a penny gained. This November Newberry County voters could reap gains from pennies being collected when residents vote on a penny sales tax referendum that potentially funds 12 capital projects, including significant allocations for the emerging Newberry Museum. Newberry Museum volunteer and history enthusiast Denise Reid views the referendum as a gifting opportunity.

“This (referendum) is a gift that Newberry gives itself,” Reid said. Why would a tax be a gift? The referendum extends the current one cent sales tax. The referendum does not raise taxes. Instead the 2016 vote, if passed, allows one cent sales tax funds to fund new projects including

  1. an 800 mhz Emergency Services System;
  2. construction of a city of Newberry Recreational Complex;
  3. The Newberry Museum;
  4. HVAC Improvements to the Newberry Opera house;
  5. Recreational Complex improvements for the Town of Prosperity;
  6. Water Supply Improvement for Consolidated Fire District;
  7. Town Hall/Police Department remodel and upgrades for Whitmire;
  8. Old Pomaria School Building renovation for the Town of Pomaria;
  9. A computer center and library upgrades for Little Mountain;
  10. Demolition of the old school building and a new walking track in Silverstreet;
  11. Newberry County Detention Center repairs and improvements;
  12. Newberry County Water and Sewer Authority work at the
    Mid-Carolina Commerce Park.

The referendum reaches to all county municipal regions, however, Reid noted all county residents would benefit from its including county detention center repairs and facility improvements. She said the county likely will need to raise millage rates to collect the funds required for the detention center if the referendum fails. That economic reality is one reason she calls the penny sales tax “a gift residents give themselves,” because, a yes vote avoids a potential tax increase and enables 12 capital projects, what she terms as gifts.

The project near to Reid’s heart is the Newberry County Museum. She and other museum volunteers are part of a grassroots movement to preserve Newberry’s past and promote Newberry’s influence while looking to the future. That mission progressed from the Coppock House Museum to the Taylor Building, which provides the County and Newberry College a climate-controlled, curated environment in which to store artifacts.

“A good museum is as much about the future as it is about the past,” Reid said. “The museum (of the present and future) is more about having a two-way conversation between visitor and exhibit (than) being a tool that merely imparts knowledge. A trip to a museum should make you want to know more and motivate you to think beyond what is there and then do more research for yourself.”

A museum as a learning catalyst is the image behind the group’s logo that incorporates spokes on a wheel with the museum as a hub. It is hoped, the museum exhibits, of famous local ghost story sites or significant Revolutionary War battles, would prompt visitors to explore the entire county. Such history and heritage tourism could be a boost to Whitmire, Little Mountain, Pomaria, Silverstreet and other municipalities.

Newberry Museum volunteers also share a vision of exhibit curation that meets high standards. For example, Newberry County School District (NCSD) Curriculum Coordinators will help make sure exhibits meet state standards, which would help teachers potentially work museum field studies into student lessons. Doing so would help local students understand Newberry’s history, such as Glenn Street being named for the first doctor to practice in Newberry County, George Washington Glenn and DOT signage honoring Maj. Israel Brooks, a Newberry native and U.S. Marshal who was the first African American Highway Patrol Officer in South Carolina.

The museum is a county/community partnership with Newberry College. Professional museum staffing will include a director and curator. Newberry College’s archivist also will be a staff member, albeit one funded by the college instead of the county, who oversees the college collection and curates it. Newberry College artifacts and archives will be stored there and college students will have opportunities for museum work studies and internships. There will be a permanent college collection as well as a kiosk the college could use to promote town/gown partnerships and as a recruiting tool.

Reid said the city, college and county collaborated and produced a sustainable operational plan for the county museum to catalog, insure and preserve artifacts and exhibits. She and volunteer Peggie West toured museums throughout the state to note best practices. Those visits as well as committee meetings helped develop museum policies. For instance, the museum has a collections policy that requires donated items to meet criteria deemed significant to Newberry County and its history.

Phase 1 is a $2.2 million allocation that includes renovation of the Taylor Building, developing exhibits, establishing 6-day-a-week hours, and providing professional staff for the facility. Floor one includes a mini theatre and themed exhibits, as well as an industrial business section and kiosk. There also will be a small shop on site. The basement includes archival storage and a conservation work room area, as well as the museum curator’s office, a community records room, a conference room for training and genealogical record keeping, and an area for a children’s exhibits. There also is a mezzanine level that holds permanent exhibits about the county, including interactive maps and educational programs deemed of interest to residents of the county.

Reid and other volunteer supporters find it fitting that the Taylor building, once a post office and library, once again would contain books and letters as parts of museum exhibits and continue cultivating community through communication and expression. With regard to the referendum, there are communication restrictions placed, by law, upon the county and its employees. They must refrain from commenting or campaigning for or against the one cent sales tax referendum. As a civic leaders and community volunteers, however, Reid and other volunteers are not bound by that obligation. As such, Reid shared that this is the fourth time Newberry County voted on a penny sales tax referendum and that the other three passed. She said she and other historical society volunteers hope this referendum trend will continue so heritage and history tourism can stimulate the economy of Newberry, “A Place to Visit (and) a Place to Live.”