The Top Story by Chris Graham
You hear that they spent $2.3 million to get ready for this moment, so you’re expecting something big.
So you almost walk in expecting too much.
And then you enter the new Waynesboro Heritage Museum – and you catch yourself saying out loud, Wow!
“It looks beautiful. It exceeds any expectations that I had. Definitely,” said Clover Archer, the museum’s curator.
So she apparently agrees with me that the seven-figure, nearly-three-year renovation of the Heritage Museum – which will be unveiled to the public with a 6 p.m. Saturday grand-opening celebration – is a big, big hit.
The museum opened at its current location at the corner of Main Street and Wayne Avenue in Downtown Waynesboro in 1997 – during the city’s celebration of its Bicentennial. The space had most recently served as home to a bank branch before it was utilized to house items from various historical collections that had been on display at the Waynesboro Public Library.
“The forefathers did the best they could with finding a home back in 1997. Things came in from the library – which was basically the first museum. The library needed that space, so things were put in storage a couple of times. It came into here with limited money and docents and volunteers – and we had things the best we could. But we knew that we could do better,” said Shirley Bridgeforth, the president of the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation, which has spearheaded the museum-renovation effort.
“We just had to get a little more help – from the city, which we have gotten, and from someone who could take charge to put it into the right kind of order so it could be displayed appropriately,” Bridgeforth told The Augusta Free Press.
That’s where Archer comes in. Archer was hired to the Heritage Foundation to lead the project to catalogue the thousands of items that have been donated to the foundation over the years.
“I learned a lot along the way,” Archer told the AFP. “I’m not originally from the area – so when I came in, I knew nothing about Waynesboro. So I read what I could, and went through the collection, and got an impression of what Waynesboro history is. And the longer I’ve been a part of this process, the more I’ve learned.”
Her work in the cataloguing area coincided with the renovation work at the museum location on Main and Wayne – which was closed to the public in 2004 to accommodate the construction schedule.
With the hammers and nails and saws and the rest put away, the focus is now back on what of Waynesboro’s rich history lies between the walls.
“One of the main goals is to be able to take out artifacts from our collection that are not in the permanent exhibits and expand on them,” Archer said. “People who saw the previous incarnation of the museum wonder where things are. There are things that they’re not going to see that used to be on display in the old museum. What we’d like to do is take the pieces that we know are there and really give them a bigger picture and give them more details and let them tell a story.
“We also want to put Waynesboro in a bigger context. For example, the CCC camps that were near here – we have some nice artifacts from that. And there are some things from Augusta County that definitely affected Waynesboro’s history. We want to touch on those types of things as well,” Archer said.
For Bridgeforth, it’s all about counting down to Saturday evening’s grand opening.
“I think it’s just like what we thought it would be,” Bridgeforth said of the museum. “We’d all gone around to different museums and seen how they tell their stories, got some ideas, and then once we started with it, coming up with how that story needs to be told, from the start right on up, this is the best we came up with, what we have in here – and it will gather momentum.
“I think we’re right up there in the upper league of museums. And I think Waynesboro has something to be proud of here,” Bridgeforth said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.