As early as 1907, citizens of Lincoln County determined a need in the county for an historical society to acquire and preserve the artifactual history of the county and make plans for the propagation of this history for posterity. Local supporters explained that local preservation of historic relics, and development of a site to store and display these relics would add charm that that was found in the New England states. They explained that the appeal of these states lies in their marking of “every spot where an event of any importance occurred.”
The Lincoln County Historical Association was organized in 1954 with interested members from the county’s various civic organizations. The Association was officially chartered by the State of North Carolina on March 28, 1955. The organization’s mission included the investigation, compilation, and preservation of historical facts, data, or other information concerning Lincoln County and its citizens. Their objectives were to produce, operate, and participate in the production of pageants, dramas, lectures, writings, or shows for the dissemination of such historical information and historical education of the residents of Lincoln County and surrounding areas. In addition, they made provisions to purchase, lease, own, compile, or develop historical sites and mementos of Lincoln County to education the residents of the county.
The incorporators of the Association met on April 29, 1955, at the Creamland Grill, and included P.J. Buckley (1), Mrs. S.A. Wilson, Mrs. P.R. Drum, Miss Eva James, S.M. Roper (2), S. Ray Lowder (3), Herman Beeman (4), Ken Carpenter, Harold Warlick, Lester Ballard, Mrs. F.H. Crowell, and J.L. Thompson, Jr. (5). At this meeting, the incorporators elected for the meeting Sheldon M. Roper as Chairman, and Mrs. Polly Crisson (6) as Secretary. They further resolved that members from each of the civic organizations in Lincoln County be automatically accepted into the Association’s membership at a fee of $1.00 per member or $100. Citizens of Lincoln County that held memberships within the county’s ladies organizations were exempted from paying membership dues, and presidents from each of the county’s civic organizations constitute the Association’s board of directors.
The Association’s first official board of directors meeting took place with the organization’s incorporators and additional members Frank Hull Crowell and Harvey A. Jonas. The board of directors elected the following officers: Frank Hull Crowell, President (7); S.M. Roper, Vice-President (2); Mrs. Polly Crisson, Secretary (6); and J.L. Thompson, Jr., Treasurer (5). The main item of business on the agenda at this meeting was the Association’s involvement with the production of the Thunder Over Carolina. The production would commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. The drama was based on a decisive Revolutionary War battle at Ramsour’s Mill that took place on June 20, 1780 between local Patriots and Tories.
The Association’s board of directors began discussing the specifics of the Thunder Over Carolina production as early as May 1955. On May 11, the Association’s board of directors decided to provide special complimentary tickets (8) to Mesdames Neal and Forney Roseman and Mary Deaton for their cooperation in allowing the
Association the use of their land for the production. The board decided that the admission costs would be $1.00 for adults and $.50 for children. In addition, the board voted to provide a flexible section for “colored,” at the same prices. At this meeting the board decided unanimously to designate Charles Loveland (9) of Shelby, North Carolina, as the General Manager of the drama. For his services, Loveland received $100 plus 10% of the profits. The board met throughout the remaining portion of 1955 to discuss performance dates, script edits, and sponsors for 1956. During this time, Gladys Childs became part of the production and received much praise from the Association’s board of directors, members of the cast, and the community.
After their initial performance during June and July of 1955, Gladys Childs (10) encouraged the Association to work towards supporting other historical efforts in Lincolnton and Lincolnton. She suggested that the Association provide funds to the Lincolnton Garden Club for their support of Thunder Over Carolina. The Garden Club would use the funds towards Memorial Garden Wall at Lincolnton’s Memorial Hall, the former Pleasant Retreat Academy.
In January of 1956, the Association expanded their performance of Thunder Over Carolina from the previous year and involved the Lincolnton Little Theatre, men from the National Guard, the Pilot Club, Jaycees, and Lions Club. The Lincolnton Little Theatre requested with their participation that the Association provide them 30% of the profits, set aside funds for costumes, and appoint committees to manage the necessary stages, props, prop houses, ticket booth space, concession stands, parking lot, and spotlight facilities to make the setting more comfortable and attractive. In addition, the groups agreed to appoint a caretaker to clean the battleground before and after each performance; appoint Boyce Kendrick and Everette Avery to appropriately paint scenes
for the drama such as the Tavern Scene; appoint Don Frazier to secure ads for a new program; and include Clyde Cornwell (11) to assist Don Frazier with photographing the drama (12-15). They finalized their plans with the Association covering the costs associated with recording the production’s music, mimeographing and typing scripts, and securing the services of Bradford Arrington of Hickory and his assistant Dick Tyndall.
Upon completion of Thunder Over Carolina, the Association took a few years to reorganize and evaluate the organization’s mission, objectives, membership, and position in the county. On June 7, 1960, the Association met in the council room of Lincolnton’s City Hall for the purpose of “formulating plans for the reorganization” of the organization. Members decided to rewrite the bylaws, and Jack Ragen, President of the Chamber of Commerce, agreed to allow the organization to meet in the main office of Chamber. In addition, organization agreed unanimously that the Association was “of great value to the future progress and development of Lincoln County.” During this year, as Lincoln County began the construction of a new grammar school on the Ramsour’s Mill Battleground site, the county and building contractors contacting members of the Association to investigate a potential graveyard they unearthed while digging the school’s basement. Today this site is documented as designated as the Ramsour’s Mill Battleground mass gravesite. Lincoln County is currently developing this site and surrounding land as a local historic park to commemorate the battle.
Over the next two decades, the Association increased their membership to include a number of committees to carry out the work of preserving and presenting the rich history of Lincoln County. One of these committees, Historical Sites and Data, worked to identify historic sites in the county and make recommendations regards their preservation. Members of the Historical Sites and Data committee were Miss Mary Deaton, Ralph Heavner, James Digh, and Robert Hurley. To educate their members about various aspects of the county’s history, they published a quarterly newsletter titled “Bits and Pieces,” starting in 1976. The Association purchased books of local interest and donated them to the Lincoln County library, purchased items such as microfilm readers for genealogists who researched census records, wills, deeds, and newspapers, and accumulated local genealogies for the library vertical files. During the 1970s, the Association acquired artifacts of local interest for the Lincoln County Library, before a museum was created to properly preserve and exhibit these items.
Beginning in 1976, members of the Association adopted new bylaws and met monthly to present local historic information on its members and guests. Throughout the Association’s history, it has invited speakers to its quarterly meetings to provide programs and presentations on local and state history for the general membership. Advertising in the local paper and on WLON, Lincolnton’s local radio station, the organization drew large numbers to hear presentations from such people as Legette Blythe, Chalmers Davidson, and Doug Mays, and Association members such as Ann Keener, Gaither Shrum, Ann Dellinger, Mary Dellinger, Ed Smith, Elsie Keever, Daniel Barefoot, Darryl Harkey, Bill Beam, and David Heavner. Members participated in the county’s celebration of America’s bicentennial by assembling items for an organizational parade with the theme “The Way It Was.” Featured on parade float were items such as corn shellers, wheat cradles, washtubs, churns, and wash pots (16).
To promote local history in the area during the 1970s, the Association printed a local historical map, gave tours of local historic sites, reprinted writings from the county’s foremost historian, Alfred Nixon, and in 1979 joined with the Lincoln County Camera Club to publish a book of writings and photographs titled Past-Present-Future (17). The organization published the book in conjunction with Lincoln County’s celebration of its bicentennial, and dedicated to the book to the people of the county because they “have been a part of the events of history which has helped to determine the course of the nation’s history.” That same year the association applied for and received non-profit, tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. As the county’s only
organization with a mission of collecting and preserving local history, the Association received correspondence from various community members requesting their assistance with determinations about county historic sites such as Macphelah Church (18) and cemetery, Ramsour’s Mill Revolutionary War Battleground, Forney family cemetery.
At the same time, the organization discussed at various meetings the erection of monuments for individuals and events of local significance.
The Association participated in the preservation of local historic sites through their participation on committees and as local promoters during the 1970s and 1980s. During a directors meeting on September 13, 1977, the Association appointed David Heavner, Frank Crowell, and Ed Smith to serve on the newly created Machpelah Preservation Society, Inc. Current Association board member Daniel W. Barefoot was appointed as representative from the Presbytery by Judge John Friday to establish the non-profit corporation for the restoration of Machpelah church and cemetery. The non-profit was composed of two members from the Presbytery, two members from the Association, two descendants, and one at-large member. The Association participated during the 1970s in the restoration of the Confederate Memorial Hall, the former Pleasant Retreat Academy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group in charge of the management of this historic site, approached the Association in July 1979 to assist in acquiring the necessary funds to match a $5,000 grant from the North Carolina Historical Society. The Association appointed Roddy Cline, Calvin Blalock, Ed Smith, Richard Goodson, and Frank Crowell to “review the possibility of this undertaking.”
Before the creation of local historic properties commission, the Association worked with local government, school system, other history-related organizations, and volunteers to preserve the Ramsour’s Mill Battleground. During 1981, the Association, with assistance from David Choate, set out azaleas on the site, and organized efforts to place gravemarkers and monuments at the site. Members of the organization sent letters to the Lincoln-Times News asking local citizens to help in preservation efforts by contributing much needed funds and labor at the battleground.
After twenty years since the premiere of Thunder Over Carolina, the Lincoln Arts Council partnered with the Association for a long awaited encore. Association board member Gaither Shrum met with Arts Council member Barrie Howard on various occasions about the production of a new theatrical performance of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. In addition, the Association and Arts Council, the Lincoln Theatre Guild became an active member of the plans in October 1981. The organizations decided on May 3, 1982, as the date for the new performance of “Thunder Over Carolina” at the Lincoln Citizens Center.
It is during this period that the Association first began their discussions concerning the acquisition and preservation of local artifacts. After learning that a number of local families had donated their family collections to other institutions, the Association included in the minutes of their board meetings that “if any papers pertain to history of the county…[we] would like to see them remain in the county.” In 1983, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners created a local historic properties commission to designate local properties of historic value as local historic landmarks, and work to acquire, manage, and preserve these local landmarks. The creation of this commission began a long relationship between it and the Association. Many of the activities of each of these organizations were, and are still, coordinated by individuals who serve jointly on the Association’s board of directors and the Historic Properties Commission. In April 1984, Gaither Shrum reported to the Association board of directors that the Historic Properties Commission received funds to perform an architectural survey of Lincoln County. Employing Marvin Brown as the researcher on the new project, both organizations supplied assistance to ensure the accuracy and success of the new book.
In 1986, the Association received a large appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly for operating expenses. This grant helped the Association “continue the association’s work of making the history of Lincoln County known to the public, and of making historic buildings accessible to the public.” (General Assembly of N.C., 1985 Session, Ratified Bill, Chapter 1014, House Bill 2055).
The greatest challenge to the Association since its inception came in 1987 with the forming of the Lincoln County Museum of History. At this time, Lincoln County purchased the old First Baptist Church at 403 East Main St., which had been used as the Lincoln Campus of Gaston College for several years prior. The objective was to form the Lincoln Cultural Center to house the various arts and history groups in Lincoln County. From 1987 to 1991 representatives from the Association to the Lincoln Cultural Development Center reported on the status of the project, and advised the organization on the structure of the fundraising campaign and the place of the Association in the overall planning of the new project. The Association appointed Bill Beam, John Friday, and Mercer Simmons to work with John Ellington, Director of the Department of Archives and History and History Museum branch of the State Museum, in the early planning stages of the new museum. As early as 1990, the Association began organizing and publishing a calendar with monthly historical photographs to showcase the rich photographic history of the county, and to raise money for future museum projects.
In 1991 the former First Baptist Church of Lincolnton was remodeled, due largely to a one million dollar grant from the Timken Foundation. For many years the Lincoln County Historical Association had dreamed of an opportunity to open a museum and house donated and loaned artifacts and objects. As an original member of the Lincoln Cultural Center the Association opened the Lincoln County Museum of History in conjunction with the opening of the Lincoln Cultural Center in 1991. The museum enlisted the services of myriad volunteers during the early years of its operations, and acquired artifacts, objects, display units, and other museum-related materials to professionally represent Lincoln County’s historic character and roots.
Since the founding of the museum, the Association has maintained a core group of volunteers that provided an exorbitant of hours to bring the museum to fruition. With the assistance of Sam Grey and Terrell Finley from the Western Office of the North Department of Archives and History in Old Fort, North Carolina, these volunteers painted platforms, collected artifacts, filled out paperwork, organized displays, promoted the organization’s projects, conducted tours, planned exhibits, and met incessantly to ensure that the their museum became an institution that other North Carolina counties would seek to emulate. The volunteers that worked hard throughout the early years of the museum’s existence include Bill Beam, John and Lila Friday, Mercer and Peggy Simmons, Robert and Ann Dellinger, Elsie Keever, Joe and Ruth Leonard, Marshall Ramseur, Bill Ramseur, William “Bill” and Matt Carpenter, Brad Bangle, Hunter Rudisill, John and Rubylee Cline, Darryl Harkey, David Heavner, and Sarah Yoder.
In 1991, with the opening of the museum, the Association began an endeavor that would lead the organization towards a reputable future of presenting quality shows to the people of Lincolnton and Lincoln County. On November 18, 1991, Bill Beam reported that NASA had selected the Lincoln County as one of four sites nationwide where it would sponsor their SPACE exhibit. The museum premiered the exhibit during the week of April 6-15, 1992. This exhibit involved the inclusion of local schools, businesses, industries, and the entire community. During this time, the Association secured the assistance of John Ellington, Director of the Department of Archives and History Museum Branch of the State Museum, and organized a display of the time capsule from the Lincolnton Grammar School at the Lincoln County Courthouse.
In addition to museum-related activities during the 1990s, the organization published and sold various booklets to educate the general public about the history of Lincolnton and Lincoln County. The family of Frank Crowell donated reprinted copies of the Annals of Lincoln County by William Sherrill to sell for the benefit of the organization, and the organization reprinted various works from Alfred Nixon on the history of Beatties Ford, the Finger Family, and a history of Lincoln County. In addition, William “Bill” Carpenter wrote a booklet on Lincoln County’s involvement with the Civil War, and a booklet on the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill that the Association sold at the museum. These publications accompanied publications that the Association published prior to the 1990s.
In 1993, the Association hired its first museum curator. With funds provided by the City of Lincolnton, the organization planned to utilize this position for the betterment of the organization by allowing this new position to oversee museum projects with assistance from various committees and volunteers. On August 17, 1993, the organization hired Ralph Farmer, III to serve as the Director/Curator of the Lincoln County Museum of History. While leading the organization, Farmer formulated and organized all of the museum’s necessary forms and manuals. He organized and oversaw all of the museum’s exhibitions, school programs, and collections. His service to the organization was well received, and his leadership cannot be over-stated.
In November 1996, the Association hired its current executive director, Jason L. Harpe, and the organization embarked on a new journey in a direction that its founders never would have imagined. The organization has been able to undertake a plethora of activities and events that range from large scale exhibitions to collaborations with other history-related organizations in the county. The increased financial support from the Lincolnton City Council, Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, individuals and families from all over the United States, and grants from local, state, and federal sources have enabled the Association to foster growth in the areas of membership, community outreach, collaborations, and collections. The Association has taken part in actively collecting artifacts and objects from all over the county, and has worked incessantly on book projects, and conservation and preservation projects that showcase the organization’s commitment to its stated, mission, goals, and objectives. The current executive director and board of directors remain mindful of the commitment and dedication that so many members over the years have provided the organizations. Though these men and women are memorialized in the organization’s archives, it is only appropriate to show them as they were during the periods that they worked at establishing this Association on a firm and solid foundation.