07/31/13 — Aycock birthplace to remain unshuttered

View Archive

Aycock birthplace to remain unshuttered

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on July 31, 2013 1:46 PM

FREMONT -- After months of discussion by the N.C. General Assembly and intense lobbying efforts by local officials, the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace has been saved from "shuttered" status. That means, that the hundreds of artifacts collected since 1959 -- so many that the site manager "would not hazard to guess" the number -- and the historical buildings will continue to be seen and explored by school children and others, just as they have been for the last 50-plus years.

"At this point, we will still be suffering a significant cut. By all accounts of us running the numbers, we will be able to sustain operations, albeit at the most basic of levels. By basic, it appears we'll be able to maintain full-time staff there, and maintain a 9 to 5 p.m. schedule five days a week," said Keith Hardison, director of the Department of Cultural Resources.

The original Senate version of the state budget stripped $96,000 from the Aycock Birthplace funding and put the site into dormancy. In other words, the site would have been closed except during special events, and one full-time employee out of the three currently employed would have remained as a caretaker.

The final version of the state's budget appropriated about $192,000 back into the Division of State Historic Sites and Properties, which saved the four sites slated for dormant status.

The three other sites are the birthplace of President James K. Polk, the birthplace of Gov. Zebulon Vance and the House in the Horseshoe.

However, Hardison said, even though that budgeted money saved the sites, there will be some changes.

"On a day-to-day basis, the experience is not necessarily different. At Aycock, the visitors center will be open. They can see the film, walk around on a daily basis, walk about the site free of charge as has been the case in previous times. Where the difference will occur, when you get to those experiences beyond walking about, there will be some experiences above and beyond where there will be a modest charge," Hardison said.

For example, several of the special events, such as the Christmas program and Fair Day at Aycock, will now charge an admission fee. The next special event at the Aycock Birthplace will be an upcoming craft show held from noon to 4 p.m. on Aug. 10.

Workshops and more extensive tours may also have fees.

Those options will be discussed over the next month as Hardison visits each site and talks to the site managers and staff.

Hardison also expects the local supporting organizations of each historic site to pick up some of the budget slack by "digging deeper," he said. The Aycock Birthplace is supported by the Aycock Birthplace Advisory Committee.

The Advisory Committee already supplies some of the basic concessions and 19th century toys at the birthplace available for purchase, contributing $20,000. And, committee President Phyllis Edmundson said that while they haven't met to discus any increase in that yet, they will "do everything we can to help it stay open. It's certainly important to the community."

The recently approved appropriations bill also writes in the option of local governments to provide some funding to the sites, but Hardison doesn't really see that happening.

"In different ways, we certainly have a lot of support from local governments in what they do, but local governments -- like the state governments -- are in a cash drought," Hardison said.

During the last few months, volunteers associated with the birthplace were able to get signed resolutions of support from the Wayne County Board of Education, the county commissioners and the town boards of Fremont, Pikeville, Eureka and Mount Olive. No funding, however, was promised.

This year's cut in the division of historic sites follows consistent budget cuts over the last four years. At this point, any more cuts will put the site into danger of dormancy again.

"If you want to phrase it by holding on by a thread, we are holding on by a thread, but we are holding," Hardison said.

The Aycock Birthplace has seven buildings on site that date back to the 19th century or are built in the style of the 19th century. An eighth building, the \visitors center, features historical exhibits depicting Charles B. Aycock's history and accomplishments.

Known as the "education governor," Aycock supported the building of 690 new schoolhouses, as well as increased teacher salaries and longer school terms while he served as North Carolina's 50th governor from 1901 to 1905.

His boyhood home and the one-room school house on site, the Oak Plains School, are used to teach the public about 19th century farm life.

The site also features a working farm, where workers take care of a barn of goats, a chicken coop, and a small field that grows corn, beans and cotton.

"We're glad we'll be able to continue the public service that we do," said site manager Leigh Strickland. "The thing that is important to us, when we hear phrases like, 'this is the best field trip ever,' those phrases that we wouldn't have been able to hear if we would have been put into dormancy."