In 2013, a brief but powerful storm that crossed Hampton Street in Kingstree destroyed a portion of the former Belk building. The destruction was so immense it affected the adjoining building, an Annex of the Williamsburgh Historical Society Museum. Since then a lot has occurred.
The Historical Society was awarded matching grants by Parks and Recreation Tourism and USDA Rural Development to upgrade and renovate the building to house displays. The Town of Kingstree purchased the property and a 50-year lease was created in order for the Society to qualify for the funding.
The matching portion of the grants is being made possible through ongoing drives and campaigns. “We knew when we got the building it wasn’t going to be a one-time expense,” said Museum Director Wendell Voiselle. “It’s going to be something we have to continue to operate.”
Saving the Annex was important, as it was the original site of Santee Electric Cooperative. Several years later Farmers Telephone Cooperative set up shop. Upon completion of the Annex, both industries will have displays with information, history and memorabilia, but that’s only the beginning.
When Voiselle became director in 2015, he recognized the lack of resources for African Americans and set out to address it. “That’s one of the reasons we were interested in doing this,” he said. A goal of one of the grants is that the building house an African American Center for Civil Rights. The contributions of African Americans to our local history in Williamsburg County as well as South Carolina will also be presented.
Voiselle said displays will include famous moments in local history, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1966 visit to Kingstree and New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s visit during her 2008 bid for president. Voiselle added that writer and historian Linda Brown penned a three-book compilation encompassing buyer, seller and slave names of Williamsburg County from Deed Books. The books have turned out to be a valuable asset to those seeking family history and will be a positive addition to the Annex.
The space will also house a room for meetings and a storage area to allow for rotating displays. “My vision is many of the displays in the new building will be either permanent or semi-permanent,” said Voiselle.
The Society has applied for other grants that will address lighting, audio and interactive displays. “You’ve seen some museums where there will be a picture and you punch a button and it gives you information about that person or the event that depicted. We’re hoping to have all that,” said Voiselle. He predicts a completion date of the interior before October 2020. For more information on how to become involved contact Voiselle at (843) 355-3306.