Pantego museum preserves history, culture of the area

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, September 9, 2015

KEVIN SCOTT CUTLER | DAILY NEWS MUSEUM GIFT SHOP: Such diverse items as jars of peanuts and books by local authors are featured in the newly installed gift shop at the Pantego Academy Historical Museum.

MUSEUM GIFT SHOP: Such diverse items as jars of peanuts and books by local authors are featured in the newly installed gift shop at the Pantego Academy Historical Museum.


PANTEGO — Previous visitors to the Pantego Academy Historical Museum just may want to plan a return trip to view the changes volunteers have been making to the old school building.

New exhibits and a gift shop are among recent additions, according to current museum board president Jenny Respess Hollowell.

“We call it our ‘flip’,” Respess said of efforts that began in January and continued over the next several months. “We’ve done the basics of it but I don’t know when we’ll get all the rest of it done; we’re all getting older, and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Hollowell said her granddaughter, Amanda Respess, was visiting and toured the museum at the invitation of board member John Ratcliff. With experience working at a Chicago museum, Respess was encouraged to offer ideas for freshening up the Pantego landmark.

Respess suggested moving tables in the meeting area, once the main room of the museum, into a side area and keeping exhibits in the heart of the building. The board approved her suggestions and work soon began.

“We’re tweaking and improving as we go along,” Hollowell said. “We’ll probably have to hire some ‘muscle’ to hang plows and other farm implements.”

Favorite components of the museum remain in place, including one room that is set up to look like an early school. Another exhibit relives the days of the old country store, and the vast collection of memorabilia from the former Pantego High School is still displayed. And, of course, the old academy’s 1879 bell is still one of the most treasured items housed in the museum.

The new gift shop is stocked with select items including ‘Pantego Warriors’ license plates and tee shirts as well as coffee mugs bearing a photo of the museum. Jars of peanuts and goat milk soap tempt shoppers, and collectors will be interested in a limited supply of antique bottles for sale. Also featured prominently is the late Cecil Odell Smith’s book, “By Finger and By God.”

The museum shop is staffed by volunteers and all items are donated by generous individuals, according to Hollowell.

The old academy, now on the National Register of Historic Places, stood empty for years, during which time rodents and the elements took their toll. Then everything changed.

“We saw a little classified ad in the Washington Daily News about a meeting to discuss the future of the academy building,” Hollowell recalled. “More than 30 people attended that meeting.”

The offshoot of that meeting was that a group of Pantego High School graduates rolled up their sleeves and got to work. They were later joined by other community volunteers.

“We began cleaning up the building; we went through each bit of paper piece by piece,” Hollowell said. “It was a big mess, as you can imagine.”

Once the debris was cleared away, those faithful volunteers began gathering a collection of memorabilia representing the academy and public high school. A big hurdle was jumped when water and electricity in the building were restored.

“By late 2005, we were set up to the point where we actually had an open house,” Hollowell said. “Old desks were set up as a classroom and we had a raffle as a fundraiser.”

Ten years later, the Pantego Academy Historical Museum remains a vital part of the community. The building is open free of charge each Saturday and Sunday afternoons (donations are welcome), and the museum hosts an old-fashioned fall festival each October. A Christmas event is usually held, and the museum has been the setting for a number of class reunions.

“This building is certainly one of the ‘queens’ of Beaufort County,” Hollowell said as she looked around at the thousands of items on display. “It’s a very, very notable place.”

Hollowell said the museum is an ever changing, ongoing effort.

“There’s still lots to do, but it’s the kind of thing I love to do,” she said. “This museum means a lot to me.”

For more information about the Pantego Academy Historical Museum, visit