Making history: Camden museum earns award

122718 Museum and Jail
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Brian Forehand, one of the volunteer coordinators of the Camden County Heritage Museum, poses with the Robert James Award for Preservation Excellence presented to the Friends of the Camden County Museum, Inc. by the North Carolina Preservation Commission during a conference in Raleigh last month. The museum is currently closed for development of new exhibits and will reopen in March.

122718 Museum and Jail

By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 27, 2018

CAMDEN — 2018 has been quite a year for the Camden County Heritage Museum.

On July 28 the museum welcomed its 1,000th visitor —- a Raleigh teenager with the remarkably apt name of Camden Spence — and last month the museum and its affiliated jail received a top state preservation award.

The Friends of the Camden County Museum, Inc., the nonprofit that oversees both the museum and jail, was presented the Robert James Award for Preservation Excellence on Nov. 16 by the North Carolina Preservation Commission during its state conference at the McKimmon Center at N.C. State University.

Anne Jennings and Dewey Burgess of the Camden County Heritage Museum and Historic Jail accepted the award on behalf of the museum.

According to the NC. Preservation Commission website, the Robert James Award “recognizes institutions in North Carolina that have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the preservation of tangible and intangible heritage of enduring value.”

The museum, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September, uses story boards and artifacts to tell the story of Camden County from the time of its early indigenous population until recent times. In between, the museum documents Camden during the Colonial period; Camden’s eventual separation from Pasquotank County to become a separate county; Camden’s participation in the Civil War; Camden resident Moses Grandy’s life as a slave who bought his freedom and worked for the abolition of slavery; and Camden during both World War I and World War II.

A special exhibit is devoted to Grandy’s life and there is a replica of the Wade Point Lighthouse — an example of screwpile lighthouses once common at the mouths of rivers along the North Carolina sounds and the Chesapeake Bay — and a replica of a steamship that once traveled the Pasquotank River and beyond.

Brian Forehand, one of the museum’s volunteer curators, said the museum has sought from the beginning to be “more than just a collection of old things” by providing context for the artifacts and “telling the story of Camden County.”

New exhibits are currently being developed for 2019. As a result, the museum and jail will be closed until March, at which time both will reopen with the new exhibits and some tweaks to existing ones. The museum will feature a new exhibit on physicians in Camden County and a room at the jail will house a collection of photographs by noted Civil War and Spanish-American War photographer John Forman Engle, who operated a photography studio in Elizabeth City later in his life and died in South Mills.

The Camden County Heritage Museum has garnered acclaim from a wide variety of sources.

“The Camden History Museum and the Friends of the Camden County Museum Inc., have greatly contributed to the preservation of Nansemond Indian and Weapemeoc Indian history,” Chief Lee Lockamy of the Nansemond Indian Tribe said in a statement cited by NCPC. “In addition to displaying Indian artifacts, the museum staff has researched local indigenous history and culture and developed educational materials for visitors. Our tribal members have visited the museum and consider it a local asset.”

Donna Stewart, director of the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center and chairwoman of the Camden Tourism Development Authority, noted the museum’s positive contribution to the community.

“The museum’s mission is to present Camden County’s rich history through collections, programs, events and partnerships,” Stewart said. “The museum engages with the public by inviting visits from local school personnel, classrooms, civic organizations and the general public.”

The museum grew out of the collections and historical research of Forehand, Sandra Leary, Alex Leary, Anne Jennings and Dewey Burgess.