Fairfield County Museum Director Pelham Lyles discussed museum milestones at Monday’s county council meeting. Among the activities she highlighted over the past year was the New Harmonies Exhibit that ran from April to June of this spring.
The Fairfield County Historical Society, which works in partnership with the museum, also supplied programming for school children.The musuem hosted two backyard musical events, which she hopes will become annual events. She said the museum was fortunate to host Smithsonian New Harmonies exhibit from April 28 – June 11. As part of that music theme, music festivals were held April 28 and May 20. With an attendance over 200 persons at each Sunday event, the audience has requested an annual event take place like this year’s musical “Hootenanny.”
Lyles mentioned several special projects including a project at Kelly Miller Elementary involving a professional musician/storyteller. For that performance, harmonicas were purchased for each 4th grader by the Fairfield County Historical Society. Small digital cameras were purchased by the Columbia arts council in partnership for busload of Geiger School art club students to be entertained by musicians at the Blackstock Bluegrass Station.
She reported that the Genealogical Society had re-formed and that it produces a great newsletter. She is excited about the prospects of the museum’s research room. Lyles said that in June there were 20 out-of state visitors represented, 20 in-state researchers, over 30 online and “snail mail” research requests.
With that research in mind, Lyles had a few requests of her own. She asked for more volunteers to help in the genealogy room processing old court house records, documents and family information.
Lyles said the museum is in dire need of a new digital microfilm machine. The museum needs to raise $7000 and County Administrator Phillip Hinely said the county would match that amount. The new machine would allow records to be digitized and emailed to researchers, bringing Fairfield County research capabilities into the 21st century.
She thanked the county for the support of its IT staff and for its maintenance staff as well as its student intern program, filled capably this year by Corrine Reed. Despite that support, Lyles said the museum needs more staff. She would love to have an assistant to groom as her successor for when she eventually retires. Right now she is 62 and has not made plans along those lines, but she does want to ensure that her passion for local history as well as other’s passions remain in the hands of a trained archives and collections curator with professional background in collections maintenance, etc. She also expressed concern over the areas where numerous old county ledgers are being stored in attics and other non-climate controlled areas. Unfortunately county council did not have a feasible alternative to that arrangement at this time. They understood Lyle’s concern that mold, moisture and water damage eventually will make those records unavailable to future generations. Options such as partnering with local colleges and universities to have more material digitally archived are limited due to a lack of funds to play stipends to college interns.
Lyles said, however, that the University of South Carolina library is digitizing some old Fairfield newspapers.
She also mentioned the idea of partnering with Wade Fairey, former Director of York County Historic Brattonsville and historic properties realtor for RootsandRecall.com. The website is dedicated to the preserving community history. It has content on architectural changes in structures, community evolution and tourism. Roots and Recall is an address-driven online database using Sanborn maps, historic images of structures, city directory data, and other historic materials.
She also touched on the museum’s role in helping with the work of author Virginia Schafer who soon will be releasing a collection of Fairfield Photos in a book published by Arcadia Press.
Perhaps the genealogy is what excites Lyles most as she speaks of her passion for history. “Heritage tourism” is an area in which she feels Fairfield can carve out a solid niche. She mentioned a national, if not global, trend toward pursuit of information on family histories.
“I often have requests to speak to family reunion groups, open our books and files for their study, and often help families to locate relatives still living in our area,” she said. “Research statistics show that tourists visiting historical sites or heritage sites tend to stay longer, spend more, are highly educated, and are observed to have higher annual income… The Fairfield County Museum has the resources to assuage this deeper hunger in the American people to know who they are.” She encourages all residents to share the museum with family and friends in addition to patronizing the establishment. Doing so will help preserve an important part of one’s past and help ensure Fairfield County learns from itself as it moves into the future.