Friday, March 22, 2013

Closing North Carolina Historic Sites

On Wednesday, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory announced his budget proposal for 2013-2015. While there is much to be applauded in the budget, including a $139 million dollar surplus at the end of the year, the closing of five North Carolina historic sites, an estimated savings of a mere $498,712, is not an appropriate move. The historic sites which Governor McCrory’s budget plan proposes to cut are as follows: the Aycock Birthplace, the Polk Memorial, the Vance Birthplace, the House in the Horseshoe, and the Mountain Gateway Museum. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit up front that I have not personally had the opportunity to  visit the House in the Horseshoe nor the Aycock Birthplace. If you have followed me along on my journey for any length of time, you know that I enjoy visiting historic sites and museums more than most folks. But my travels have not yet taken me to these sites. Secondly, I am personally acquainted with the people at the Vance Birthplace and the Mountain Gateway Museum. And I've volunteered at both in some form or fashion over the years.

There are only three North Carolina "historic sites" in western North Carolina. They are the Vance Birthplace, the Mountain Gateway Museum, and the Thomas Wolfe House in Asheville. By closing the first two, western North Carolina is left with only one: the Thomas Wolfe House. What detrimental effect will this have on our region?

In 2011, tourism was a $18.4 billion dollar industry in North Carolina, and it had increased by eight percent from 2010. According to the annual report of the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development, tourism supported 188,400 jobs, and directly contributed $4.19 billion to the state's payroll in 2011. Visitors generated $2.8 billion in tax receipts. North Carolina ranked sixth out of the fifty states in tourism, and with historic sites and museums at 17.5 percent for overnight visitors.

But these sites are far more important that just numbers. I live in western North Carolina. It is a great place. But there is no science museum like the one in Raleigh, there are not a half-dozen state-funded historic sites like those found in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. We have three state-funded historic sites for both the out-of-town visitor and local school children to visit.

The Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage center is the only western North Carolina museum dedicated to the mountain culture. The mountains of western North Carolina generate more than their fair share of tax revenue for our great state. Where else can people come and learn about the area from a state-sponsored museum?

Concerning the Vance birthplace—it seems that until recently, everyone understood than Zebulon Baird Vance was the greatest governor we have ever had in North Carolina. While opposed to the Civil War, he nevertheless piloted our great state through those awful times, with great success. He served in the general assembly, the US House, as a three-term governor, and in the US Senate. We honored him by naming a county and town in Iredell County after him. He has a monument to his memory in Asheville, in Charlotte, in Weaverville, on the grounds of the state house in Raleigh, and one of our two statues in the US Capitol is of Vance (the other is of Governor Aycock). Is it possible that since Vance (and Aycock) held some views not considered politically correct today that we are attempting to relegated them to the footnotes of history?

We seem to be suffering from a large degree of historical ignorance in this country. David McCullough, in an interview in the Wall Street Journal in 2011 said that, "We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate." The closing of any historic site just adds to that problem, depriving people who make the effort to self educate themselves the opportunity to become better North Carolinians, and better Americans.

So, let me encourage you, my readers, to write to Governor McCrory and your representative in the General Assembly, and to sign the online petitions to keep our historic sites open. And even more, to devote the time and tax dollars to make them better places.
Save Vance Birthplace petition

Save Mountain Gateway Museum petition

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