Council unanimously votes against bid for museum

Published 10:04 pm Monday, August 7, 2023

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Washington City Council voted unanimously to reject a $196,000 bid to repurpose the two-thirds second floor of the Peterson Building, located on Main Street, into an archive and museum.

Council took the vote at their regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 7.

Ideas to repurpose most of the second floor generated a year ago, because local organizations dedicated to educating the public about the history and culture of Beaufort County had concerns about how their artifacts would be stewarded by future generations. Also, the archives at the George H. and Laura E. Brown Library now require more space as does the children’s area. If the archives could move to a larger space, then that would create more room for the childrens area.

Ray Midgette, representing the Historic Port of Washington (HPOW), shared that one year ago a committee of local history stakeholders was formed to discuss a “Museum of the Pamlico” (a working title).

“Still needing space for the archive collection now housed at Brown Library, it was proposed that the back two-thirds of the second floor of the Peterson Building would be renovated into a working space for the archives to catalogue and store items,” Midgette said.

Housed on the first floor and one-third of the second floor of the Peterson Building is the Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center.

Though daily functions at the senior center would have remained the same, the unanimous vote was music to members’ ears who were opposed to the idea of sharing the historic building with an archive and museum.

Many seniors who utilize the center felt as if a rug had been pulled out from under them, according to Christine Hall who is a member of the center. They were upset that there was no direct communication from the City of Washington about plans for a museum, and that they were not consulted about plans for one.

“We’re not opposed to a museum at all,” Hall said. “I think a museum would be great, but not at our senior center.”

She is “relieved” and ”thankful” that the seniors were heard at Monday night’s meeting. “I am very, very happy and relieved that the city council voted the way that they did.”

According to Hall, local seniors heard they “overwhelmed the city council,” because council was not expecting to have a large response. “I think we’re not going to be ignored anymore. We’re going to be listened to and we nee a seat at the table.”

On July 18, city council members and City Manager Jonathan Russell met with seniors at the center to discuss plans for the space. Many seniors expressed their disdain for the plans, and they felt the archive and museum space would be located elsewhere.                                                                   

After the meeting, Russell said the City of Washington would continue to weigh options between repurposing another building in the city, or constructing a building for the purpose of an archive and museum.