Town gets look at planned Civil War museum

Scott Witten

September 12, 2013

ST. PAULS — An effort is underway to commemorate America’s deadliest war with a museum in neighboring Cumberland County that proponents say would tell the story of the Civil War from North Carolina’s perspective while also being a boost to the local economy.

About 70 people met Wednesday night at the St. Pauls Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall to get a preview of the proposed North Carolina Civil War History Center. The project is in its initial stages and could take up to a decade to fully develop.

“St. Pauls is among the first places to hear about this,” said Charles Broadwell, who serves on the board trying to get the project off the ground. “At this point, we’re just getting the word out. We’re interested in your feedback and answering your questions.”

Broadwell, who describes himself as a history buff, said there is no place that captures the Civil War experience from North Carolina’s mountains to the coast and all counties in between.

“It will be a museum unlike any other,” Broadwell said. “No other state has tried to create a museum to tell its own home-front story. Not just to tell the Civil War story, but to include Antebellum and Reconstruction periods of North Carolina history.”

The Civil War, which was fought from 1861 to 1865, remains the deadliest war for the United States. About 635,000 people were killed in the war, 2 percent of the nation’s population at the time and about 50 percent more that the number killed in World War II. Of those, 300,000 were Confederate soldiers, and 335,000 Union soldiers.

North Carolina lost about 30,000 soldiers, with Virginia, the most of any state.

The museum would be off Hay Street, near the site of the Fayetteville Arsenal that Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his troops destroyed near the end of the war.

It would include a 60,000-square-foot complex that would house classrooms, an archival space, permanent exhibits and temporary displays. The plan also calls for an outdoor event space, picnic area, and several restored Civil War-period homes along with the 1897 Poe House.

“We want this to be a place where we can come learn and debate together,” Broadwell said. “We hope the museum will be a place where you can find your story and help us tell ours.”

The ambitious complex comes with a hefty price tag — about $65 million.

But Broadwell thinks the center would be worth it. He said it could have a significant economic impact on the area by attracting up to 100,000 people a year.

“The Civil War is a pivotal point in our history,” Broadwell said. “It is an era that people will always come back to. This museum will not only add to our cultural life, but be a real drawing card for people off I-95.”

Broadwell, the president and publisher of The Fayetteville Observer, said that the complex would not focus on his native Fayetteville, but serve as a state museum under the state Department of Cultural Resources.

“I want to be clear that this is not a Fayetteville museum,” he said. “It is intended to serve the entire state of a North Carolina and we think it is something that the people of St. Pauls and the rest of the state will be interested it.”

Those attending the talk, that included dinner and a short film, appeared impressed with the concept.

St. Pauls Mayor Gordon “Buddy” Westbrook said the project will be a serve as a lure for Civil War aficionados and history lovers like himself.

“I think it is great,” Westbrook said. “I love history and I know when I travel and see a sign for a historic site that I always stop. There a lot of people out there like that and the entire southeastern part of the state will benefit.”

Scott Witten works for Civitas Media as editor The St. Pauls Review and The Red Springs Citizen.