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Civil War museum prepares to reopen with changes, upgrades

May 18, 2019

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Employees with the city’s Arts and Museums Department have been getting Pope’s Tavern Museum ready to reopen in June, according to Arts and Museums Superintendent Libby Jordan.

Since closing the museum Jan. 1, Jordan said there have been numerous changes taking place, from planning repairs and upgrades to using the museum’s various artifacts in a whole new way.

The goal is to give visitors the opportunity to use artifacts to tell the story of the Civil War and how it pertains to Lauderdale County, Jordan said.

“It’s been a fun process, an interesting process,” she said. “Before, we had beautiful artifacts ... but the story wasn’t told. They weren’t interpreted. They just were identified. You didn’t know what parts they played in the story, and now you’ll know that.”

Most of the more popular items in the museum have also been moved downstairs to make them accessible to more visitors.

“I really feel like it’s going to be a lot more user-friendly for patrons who come through,” Jordan said.

She said the upstairs will largely be used to store artifacts that do not fit into the story Pope’s Tavern is aiming to tell.

Visitors can rest assured these artifacts won’t be hidden forever, though, Jordan said. They, too, will have their moments to shine in temporary exhibits.

Pope’s Tavern is believed to have served a variety of purposes over time, from stagecoach stop to a hospital used for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Jordan said this interpretation will focus on the story of the hospital.

In addition, the stories of a local girl and three slaves will be interwoven in the interpretation.

Jordan said the diary of Sally Independence Foster sheds new light on the events of the Civil War from a child’s perspective.

“She was 12 years old when the war started, so we see a young person’s account of the war, and it’s just fascinating,” Jordan said. “We have pulled several of her quotes to place in some of these panels to make it feel a little more real.”

The three featured slaves each took a different path during the war, Jordan explained, which adds more depth to the interpretation.

Outside, a “Heritage Herb Garden” will serve to educate visitors on the various plants used in the area both during the war and before, many of them for medicinal purposes.

While the old radio repair shop next door has a long way to go in terms of restoration, Jordan said big plans for it include using it to house a large barn loom that will help tell the story of cotton and its historic role in the county.

“We’ll do an interpretation of cotton there and how it led up to the Civil War — what impact it had,” Jordan explained. “From an economic standpoint, it was tremendous.”

Exterior repairs will be ongoing even after the museum reopens, Jordan said of the work on Pope’s Tavern. She said they will not fix the plaster inside until all other issues, such as diverting extra water away via gutters, are addressed. This will reduce the chances of having to fix the plaster again in the near future.

Jordan noted at a recent Florence Finance Committee meeting the total cost of repairs for Pope’s Tavern, beyond its initial budget, will be about $23,000. That cost doesn’t include work done on the old radio repair shop.

A heating and air conditioning system should be installed soon — already included in the total cost — and Jordan said other technological upgrades will include a computer, internet access and the means to accept credit cards.

“That part we’ll focus on first as we are getting bids for the gutters and the work with the repair shop,” Jordan explained. “That will come as it comes, but we want to get the doors open.”

Most of the cost of new interpretive panels had already been covered in the budget, though a few will be produced in house at a smaller, additional cost. Pull-up panels, which Jordan said will be easy to move around, will also allow for more versatile space in the museum.

The panels will likely be the final piece of the puzzle needed to open on schedule, according to Jordan.

“The things that we need to open immediately we’re looking at first,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for us to get through the rest of the signs that have not already been paid for. As soon as we get those interpretive panels, we’ll be ready to go — once we feel like we can give a good tour.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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