The beginnings of the North Carolina Museum of History date to around 1885 when newspaperman Fred Olds began to collect artifacts and manuscripts associated with the state’s past. The North Carolina State Museum (now the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences) also had been acquiring historical relics even though its main concern was the natural world. In 1898 it opened a separate room to house them. Olds proposed that his own collection be merged with the State Museum’s artifacts to create a state history museum.
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In December 1902, the newly merged collection, called the Hall of History, opened to the public in the Old Agricultural Building. Olds served as curator until July 1934, when failing health led him to retire at age eighty. In 1914, the legislature moved the Hall of History from the control of the State Museum to the North Carolina Historical Commission. The collection was moved to the State Administration Building (now Court of Appeals Building), then home to the Commission.
In 1939 the history museum moved to its third location in the newly constructed Education Building at the corner of Edenton and Salisbury Streets. According to Mattie Erma E. Parker, then museum collector, even though the museum had a new home, it “was many months—even years—before all the halls were opened to the public.” In July 1965 the Hall of History’s name was changed from to the North Carolina Museum of History. Christopher Crittenden, director of the Department of Archives and History, hoped the name change would straighten out people who tended to confuse the hall of history with a hall of fame. On August 1, 1968, the museum’s last gallery in the Education Building closed. Over an eighteen month span, over 90,000 items were moved and the new building was dedicated on May 15, 1969. In late 1973 the last exhibits were opened.
In 1982 museum supporters laid plans to occupy the old North Carolina Museum of Art building on Morgan Street, recommending construction of an annex to that structure. But, in 1985, the idea was dropped in favor of a new building. On June 14, 1988, groundbreaking took place for the new Museum of History between the State Capitol and the Legislative Building. Construction began on April 24, 1989, when digging for the parking deck started. The staff began moving into its new facility in August 1992. The new museum opened on April 23, 1994.
Ansley Herring Wegner, History for All the People: 100 Years of Public History in North Carolina (2003)
North Carolina Department (later Division and Office) of Archives and History, Biennial Reports, 1903/05 to present
(Raleigh) News and Observer, July 29, 1965; May 16, 1969; February 12, 1983; and April 24, 1994
Mattie Erma E. Parker, “The North Carolina Museum of History” (unpublished manuscript in files of Research Branch, Office of Archives and History, 1982)
North Carolina Museum of History website: http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/