Those who enjoy seeing the full picture of Horry County’s history are in for a real treat by the end of the year.
For more than three decades, the museum has been confined by a 1,800 square-foot-display area in the old post office in the heart of downtown Conway. Displays about tobacco farming, tourism, agriculture and more, would rotate, giving visitors a glimpse at the county’s history depending on what time of year a person visited.
As of Monday, nearly all of the museum’s display collection is in its new location at 805 Main Street in the historically restored, 10,000-square-foot Burroughs school, with room to show the variety of aspects of the county’s history. The building’s assets – square footage, environmental humidity control, lighting control and interior security – meet the Smithsonian Institute’s Traveling Exhibit Standards.
“That really enables us to diversify the level and quality of changing exhibits that we may be able to bring to the museum,” said Walter Hill, director of the museum.
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In 1978, the Horry County Historic Preservation Commission identified the old post office in Conway as a location for a museum. In 1979, it was decided that the post office was going to be the museum. In 1981, the doors were opened.
“It gave us a great stepping point for ‘does the county need a museum? Yes,’” Hill said. “What does the county museum services need to be and identify those.”
The historic Burroughs School was used for the county’s planning department, code enforcement, and for the public to pay taxes. Then, those offices moved to the current Horry County Government and Justice Center, which made the Burroughs school available.
In the early 2000s, the county decided to declare the Burroughs School as the museum’s new location and in the mid 2000s, funding was secured to make it happen. The museum staff and the Horry County Museum Foundation began raising funds to build and install exhibits.
“We have a little less room for storage on-site here, but more room to display collections,” Hill said. “We didn’t want to have collections in storage, we wanted to have collections on display. Moving into here gave us an opportunity to broaden the scope. It gives us a chance to tell more of the story more of the time or most of the story all of the time.”
But Hill said the museum is committed to having room for revolving displays, as well. He said the museum understands the importance of offering new displays.
“You want to stay fresh and you want to stay new,” he said. “You don’t want the public to say ‘been there, seen that’ with your museum.”
Hill said as much as 90 percent of a museum’s collection is in storage. He said it was hard for him to tell people who donated items to the museum in the old building that it wasn’t on display because of space. Well, now the museum has an exhibit dedicated solely to the common-day items Horry County residents from years ago would use.
“The approach to this gallery was to take things that were in storage and just put them out there for people to see them,” Hill said. “They’re not interpretive. I’m not trying to tell you the history of liquor making in Horry County, but there’s a liquor aspect in our collection.”
Museum officials have been building and installing exhibits since January and closed its doors at the end of August to bring all remaining items to the new location. Hill said
Many of the rooms are equipped with motion lighting and mood lighting to accent the items on display. Museum officials decided to forgo the high price tag for display risers and build their own at a tremendous savings.
That savings will allow them to, one day, provide a professional-grade children’s exhibit on the second floor of the building. Until then, that room will be used as a reception area for special events.
He is also excited about the addition of an auditorium to the museum’s mission to educate the public of how Horry County became what it is today. Hill said the museum has received funding to offer programs in the auditorium twice a month for one year.
“We want to create a tradition of the public coming in and recognizing and being aware that there’s something going on at the museum on Saturdays,” he said.
Hill said a definitive opening date for the museum will not be decided on until after the board’s Oct. 17 meeting.
One of the key pieces in deciding the date is the much-anticipated aquarium that will welcome visitors alongside a winding staircase. Should the museum have a soft opening without the aquarium or should it wait until the aquarium is installed? That’s a question board members will ponder at its meeting.