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THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES

History: Maritime museum launches first exhibit

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

In less than two months since the S.C. Maritime Museum opened on Front Street in Georgetown, it has already become a destination.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm. We had 68 people in here on Saturday,” said Susan Sanders, the museum’s director. “We have a lot who are coming because they’re reading about it and seeing it on TV. We’re tickled to death with the momentum.”

About 175 packed the space last week when the museum opened its first exhibit, one on lumber schooners. Even on Monday afternoon, people were in and out throughout the day, wandering from one display to another. A man from Florence County came in to look around and spent a few minutes talking with Sanders about his family’s history in the lumber industry and how logs were floated down the Pee Dee River.

A quick look at the guest book by the front door shows notes from visitors who came from all over South Carolina and states including Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Dakota. One visitor even came from France. They leave short comments such as “great place,” “wonderful guide,” and simply “wow!”

“Some are just passing through and happen upon us, but I get calls every morning from people who are planning a trip to visit the museum,” Sanders said. “Just about everybody has something enthusiastic to say. They walk through this exhibit and read everything that’s written and take time to study every picture. They’re really taking a genuine interest in it and they’re looking forward to coming back and watching us grow.”

She’s hoping all that will help the museum as it applies for grants and accommodations tax funds to help with that growth.

The museum opened just before Christmas in a 5,000-square-foot space which it’s still working to renovate. So far, about a quarter of the space has been refinished and is occupied.

“As people come in, I explain to them that this is our humble beginning,” Sanders said. “We purchased the whole first floor, but the cash outlay to get the building ready to occupy overran what we planned on. Our available resources were used up by getting the building rewired and replumbed and ready for us to move in.”

The walls are exposed brick (a charming effect) and only part of the hardwood floors have been finished, but one would never guess how much remains to be done from looking at the part of the building open to the public. The unfinished portion of the building is blocked by a moveable wall that can be slid back as more of the space is made ready.

“What we intend is to occupy the whole space,” Sanders said. It’s going to take some time, but she already has plans for some of the space. Those include an exhibit on the Harvest Moon, an armed wooden steamer that anchored in Winyah Bay in 1865. After inspecting Georgetown’s fortifications and weighing anchor, it struck a floating mine and sank.

The museum already has a model of the ship, “but we need to tell the story,” Sanders said.

An exhibit featuring the old fresnel lens from the Georgetown lighthouse is also on her wish list, but that might take some doing. It’s on display in a Coast Guard museum in Florida. There’s much support for bringing it home and Sanders said the Sheriff has even volunteered to go pick it up, he wants it here so badly.

“But you wouldn’t believe the red tape,” she said. “We’ve got to have an environmentally sound casing and it’s got to be protected from temperature and humidity.”

The museum is trying to partner with an archaeologist who can help with this project and others like it.

A mix of static and interactive exhibits is planned for the museum.

“Right now we’re trying to prioritize,” Sanders said. “We’ve got two priority lists. One for what projects we think are the most important in descending order and one for projects we can do with limited resources, like our photographic exhibit of lumber schooners. We were able to tell that story and it didn’t cost us $60,000, it cost us $6,000.

“Things have to stay active and we have to have some change in here while we raise the serious money.”

The photographic exhibit will run through the summer and can be viewed during regular museum hours, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In the meantime, the public can help by purchasing an annual museum membership, which starts at $40 and provides benefits including a discount in the museum store and for museum events. When the museum reaches a point where it starts charging admission, members will get in for free, and plans are also in the works for members-only receptions.

Volunteers are also sought to help man the museum and “we’re always hungry for information,” Sanders said. She would love to hear from people whose ancestors had ties to ships connected to Georgetown County or who have artifacts the museum might be interested in.

For information, call the museum, 520-0111, or visit its website.

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