The Wayne County Museum building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It boasts a long and rich history, inside and out. Not only is the museum responsible for housing and preserving artifacts and memorabilia reflecting this community’s legacy but now the structure itself is being recognized for its contributions.
Located at 116 N. William St., adjacent to the U.S. Postal Service at the intersection of Mulberry Street, the building was constructed in 1927. Originally, the clubhouse for the Goldsboro Woman’s Club, it was rented out to the United Services Organization, USO, in August 1942.
It would serve as USO headquarters during World War II. Many activities were held there over the years for the troops who returned from the battlegrounds — including dances, picnics and Sunday dinners.
The building returned to the Woman’s Club in 1947 and in 1956, when Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was reactivated, the club rented the first floor to the USO again. It went back to the Woman’s Club in 1973.
The museum was founded in 1986 when the Woman’s Club donated the vintage building to the Wayne County Historical Association, which raised over $65,000 to restore the outside and ground floor.
The property officially opened as Wayne County Museum on Dec. 9, 1988.
Since that time, the Historical Association added elevators and a wheelchair ramp, and making it handicap accessible, including handicap accessible restrooms.
Jennifer Kuykendall, executive director since 2018, called the estimated three-year process to attain historical status a “daunting” process.
“You have to basically go to them and you have to have a proposal,” she said. “First it has to go to the state level and be approved before its kicked up to the national level.”
The registry is the nation’s official list of buildings, objects, sites and districts deemed worthy of preservation for their significance in American history.
There are four criteria for a property to be eligible for the status, she said, and it is recommended that applicants choose at least one, preferably two. The options include event, person, design/construction and information potential.
The two criteria selected for the Wayne site were event and design/construction.
The Colonial Revival architecture of the building was judged as an important example of period architecture, and for its association with significant events in women’s cultural history.
“I believe the Goldsboro Woman’s Club was the first or the second Woman’s Club in the state of North Carolina, but it was one of, I would say, two of the original (clubs),” the director said.
Established in 1899, the Woman’s Club provided women with an outlet for charitable outreach and companionship. The local club is credited with establishing a kindergarten for children of mill workers, advocating for public health and through its extensive collection of books is credited with helping launch the local public library.
“(Plus) just the tenacious determination of the Woman’s Club that went as a group to get a loan,” Kuykendall said. “And they had all sorts of crazy means to raise money — they ran a gas station, they ran a cafeteria on Center Street, they did bake sales, until they raised the building cost of $46,000 in 1927.”
The process of attaining inclusion in the registry is very complicated and can take a long time — including being sent back several times for additional information or research.
One thing in its favor is that fact that the property meets nomination criteria because it has retained enough of its original physical characteristics to represent its historic period.
“We were lucky that we had a treasure trove of research materials in the building,” Kuykendall added. “We had minutes going back to the late 1800s.”
Another plus was securing a consultant to assist with the project. Mary Ruffin Hanbury, founding principal of Hanbury Preservation Consulting, had more than 20 years experience in historic preservation, and was an asset in guiding the process and streamlining some of the efforts, Kuykendall said.
She credited Hanbury with encouraging local organizers navigating through the process by sharing her expertise, perseverance and guidance.
This new designation is not only prestigious, but brings opportunities for support with preservation, tourism, education and funding benefits for the museum.
“I think it kind of raises public awareness,” Kuykendall said. “The building and Goldsboro have tremendous history. That’s one of the reasons I moved here — preservation mindfulness.”
Old buildings get torn down all the time, she said. But thankfully, there are many efforts to hold onto the history and ensure it is upheld for generations to come.
“We’re super excited about it,” she said. “Not just because it’s a tremendous honor to have your building officially be deemed worthy of preservation, but it’s part of American history.
“We’re very proud of the designation and we’re very proud to be recognized.”
A bronze plaque is being created at a foundry, she said. In the meantime, Kuykendall and Jeff Westbrook, assistant director, have received a certificate making the announcement official.
The museum is a private institution, in that it is not a state or county entity. One-tenth of its annual budget comes from the city and about two-tenths from the county. So to be affiliated with the national registry opens it up to other resources and funding.
Admission to the Wayne Museum is free to the public and supported through public donations and member sales. Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and by appointment.
It offers three large-scale special exhibits each year, and smaller rotating displays in side galleries. Upstairs in the former USO ballroom are military displays and a nod to the former occupants which used the premises as headquarters, the USO and Red Cross.
The museum also offers two free guided history walks each month — the first Saturday the downtown history walk and on the last Saturday or the month, exploring Goldsboro’s local black history. Both begin at 10:30 a.m..
Wayne County also boasts more than one dozen properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including several in downtown Goldsboro.
Among other local sites are Charles B. Aycock Birthplace, Borden Manufacturing Company, First Presbyterian Church, L.D. Giddens and Son Jewelry Store, Union Station and Solomon and Henry Weil houses.
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