Historical Commission museum to echo classic appearance
By Samantha Lyles
When Carolyn “Bet” Norment Phillips bequeathed $4 million to the Darlington County Historical Commission to build a museum, she probably expected her wish to be carried out, though Bet might be surprised at how quickly the project is progressing.
On Aug. 10, Darlington County Council approved architectural plans for the museum addition, which will be built right beside the Commission’s present digs on Hewitt Street. Exterior plans show the brick pattern, window layout and arched entranceways of the new addition will mesh nicely with its elder neighbor.
“We are emulating the architectural details, like the brick detail that goes across the top of the current building. That will go across the entire facade of the new building,” says Historical Commission director Brian Gandy, noting that the quoins (decorative cornerstones) will also be twinned on the addition.
“We were looking for a structure that looked like it was added on in the 1960s, that sort of blends the appearance of the old building in with the new, rather than a push for some modern type of construction,” says Gandy.
Inside, the two-story lobby area will offer an “outdoor feel” through lots of natural light and open space. Gandy says he wants to design the interior lobby facade as an ode to the 1875 Darlington County Courthouse, with wrought-iron window grates, a porch and columns, and perhaps even a light fixture saved from the 1904 courthouse.
The old jail will also get a facelift to keep up appearances; Gandy says the six bricked-in windows on the front facade will be opened up, allow a spill of natural light through UV protective glass.
“Guests will see a building that’s more inviting than the sterile, stark and bleak old jail,” says Gandy.
The museum will offer a grand total of 8,800 square feet of additional space. The first floor — featuring expansive exhibit and gallery space with a 9-foot-wide hallway perfect for hanging portraits and photos — will measure approximately 5,736 square feet.
“We’re really excited about how that’s going to look,” says Gandy, adding that the space will include 16 niches that comprise the chronological story of Darlington County, from natural history to modern times.
These artifacts and documents will be accompanied by some technological bells and whistles, such as audio recordings, or even QR codes that patrons can scan with smartphones if they’d like to take a deeper dive into a particular subject.
The second floor, where patrons can conduct independent research via computer terminals and libraries, will measure 2,785 square feet. Gandy says the research room will include a six-foot wide touchscreen data table where guests can pull up most of the Commission’s photographs, historical plaits, legal records, and old deed books. For those with vision problems, this table will offer powerful zooming to bring documents and pictures into sharp focus.
Up top, the 448 square-foot third floor will hold an elevator shaft, fire exit, and stairwells joining the new addition to the old Commission building. The elevator should end the hazardous stairwell climb staffers had to make to reach items stored on upper floors.
“We wanted to do what we could to make the old building safer while making the new building accessible, and this was the best alternative,” says Gandy.
Though early plans entertained the idea of building a meeting room on the third floor, Gandy says prospective costs proved too high for this addition.
As for the architectural plans, Gandy says he and the Commission board were very pleased with the work done by Hartsville’s Robert Goodson.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Gandy says. “We gave Bobby some tight working parameters…because we knew what we wanted and what Bet wanted us to have. We gave him a 65-page document with all the requests he had to include in the plan, and he exceeded our expectations on every count.”
With approval from County Council in hand and engineers already working on stick drawings, the next step is to bid out the project for construction, which Gandy says could begin early next year.