Tyner reinvigorates Robeson County Museum
The Robeson County History Museum, under the direction of new curator Blake Tyner (Music), opened its doors with all new exhibits on February 7.
One of the features is Dr. Tony Curtis's (Mass Communications) photography series "Carolina Sheds."
The Robeson County History Museum is located at 101 South Elm Street in downtown Lumberton in the historic French-Allen building. It is located one block south of the plaza past the Robeson County Public Library along-side the railroad and the black waters of the Lumber River.
Many artifacts have been gathered and organized by Tyner into new exhibits at the Robeson County History Museum. Tyner is a history major at UNCP with a long interest in local history that includes a book of historic photographs, “Robeson County, North Carolina: Images of America series” (2003).
Tyner took over as curator of the museum in July 2003 and immediately brought an expanded vision and energy, and with increased display space, the museum has begun to reach heights only dreamed about since opening in 1987.
Tyner told The Robesonian he hopes nothing is held back in recording the county's history. While it boasts of Robeson County's greatest assets, there are also reflective reminders of past injustices and suffering.
"Our approach is to tell it just like it was, whether that means showing things like child labor pictures from the cotton mill days, destroying myths of people from this part of the South as being filled with plantation owners and poor people, or by celebrating the people and their great accomplishments." Tyner said. "We try to make it an honest look into the past. For many people, it's the first time they've been exposed to some of our history."
The museum board's new focus is to have permanent and temporary displays in its 4,000-square-foot building. It is also soliciting items for display. In particular, it needs business and education items for proposed exhibits.
Museum officials said paperwork is being completed for the museum to become fully incorporated as a non-profit organization as it steps away from the umbrella of the Robeson County Public Library.
The "Robeson County Flight" exhibit has been a work in progress over the past six months. It details the work of Robeson native William McArthur, a NASA astronaut who was part of three space shuttle missions. Another display features Tom Oxendine, the first American Indian commissioned as a naval aviator. Tom, a UNCP graduate, is the brother of Chancellor Emeritus Joseph B. Oxendine.
Another aviator featured is Robeson County native Ida Van Smith. She learned to fly at age 50, and proceeded to open a flying club to encourage flight training and involvement in aviation and aerospace sciences for minority children and women in Long Island, N.Y. Another part of the room is devoted to the Laurinburg-Maxton Air Base. During World War II, it was the largest glider-training base in the U. S. and played a key role in the D-Day invasion.
One of the new exhibits, the "War Bride's Room," acts as an extension to the flight exhibit. The small closet-like room has subtle, simple and humble furnishings - a period mahogany bed, dresser and night table, an early child's playpen, a vanity with period combs, brushes and beauty accessories.
Another new exhibit, "Everyday Robeson County," explores life in Robeson County for every man, woman and child regardless of social status, race or religion. Three provocative pictures show large groups of children who worked in Lumberton's cotton mills. Some of the child laborers were as young as 6-years-old, making 30 cents a day, Tyner said.
Some of the more interesting people and things include: Maxton hat maker Eliza McQueen; Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowrie; Dr. Curtis' pictorial series "Carolina Sheds;" primitive farming tools and items from early kitchens like a butter churn.
The third new display room, "Robeson County's Natural Resources," is filled with wildlife wonders.
One wall chronicles the unexplained phenomenon of Carolina bays - shallow depressions that run through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The fascination and mystique of the Lumber River is investigated through an array of items – Depression-era glass, drugstore bottles from the '20s and '30s, fossils, pottery - found in the river by Paul Valenti and the late Richard Stephens.
A collection of replica guns and pistols from the Colonial to Civil War periods, on loan from Hector MacLean, fits nicely into the museum.
"It's become a labor of love, and I have to thank my wife, Bess (Facilities Planning and Construction), for being a part of it," Tyner said, "She's an assistant who has done as much as anyone to help the cause of making this museum improved, updated and representative of our great past."
The Robeson County History Museum is open Monday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Tuesday - Thursday from 1 - 5 p.m. For information about the museum, make a donation or loan an item, call Tyner at extension 6216.v