Smithsonian traveling exhibition about rural America coming to Barnwell Museum

  • The towns of Ellenton and Dunbarton were leveled to make way for the Savannah River Plant.

In 1900, about 40 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. By 2010, less than 18 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas.

In just over a century, massive economic and social changes moved millions of Americans into urban areas. Still, nearly 60 million Americans live in rural areas, and the United States needs vibrant and sustainable rural communities.

The Barnwell County Museum, in cooperation with S.C. Humanities, will investigate the changes that have affected small towns over the past century as it hosts Crossroads: Change in Rural America, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program. Crossroads will be on view in Barnwell from March 30, 2019, through May 12, 2019.

The Barnwell County Museum and the surrounding community has been expressly chosen by S.C. Humanities through a competitive application process to host Crossroads: Change in Rural America as part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations. The exhibition will tour six communities in South Carolina from September 2018 through June 2019.

Crossroads offers small towns a chance to envision their futures and engage in discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred. Despite the massive economic and demographic impacts brought on by these changes, America’s small towns creatively continue to find new opportunities for growth and development.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring Crossroads to our area,” said Liana Orr, chairman of the Barnwell County Museum Board. “It allows us the opportunity to explore this fascinating aspect of our own region’s history, and we hope that it will inspire many to become even more involved in the cultural life of our community.”

“S.C. Humanities is one of the first three states to host this new Smithsonian exhibit, joining Illinois and Florida,” said Dr. Randy L. Akers, Executive Director of S.C. Humanities. “I grew up in a farming village of 600 people in rural Illinois and have seen the devastating changes as small farms collapse, industry moves out, young people move to the city, and schools close. South Carolina is a rural state, and its numerous small communities have experienced many changes over the past decades. Yet there are people, values, and cultural and historical assets that offer hope. This exhibit and the programs which will accompany it will challenge us to think about the future. What can we do to bring new life to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in our state? This is a timely and extremely important exhibit addressing one of the most pressing social issues of this century.”

Barnwell County Museum has been operated by one part-time staff member and a few dedicated volunteers for 39 years. Although the museum receives some support from the City of Barnwell and Barnwell County, the museum depends on monetary donations and especially revenue from the museum’s event rental room. Since its founding, volunteers have contributed many hours to provide several educational and cultural events and exhibits for the citizens of Barnwell County annually.

The Crossroads: Change in Rural America grant was written for the citizens of Barnwell County by Kathy Berry Orr, a lifelong resident of Blackville. Mrs. Orr was assisted by Liana Orr and Marla Quattlebaum Jameson.

Several important organizations have agreed to collaborate with the museum in the presentation of the Crossroads exhibit: all the other museums in Barnwell County, Agricultural Heritage Center, Inc.; Williston Museum; and Blackville Museum. Other significant groups that have agreed to partner with the museum for this exhibit are the Circle Theatre, the Barnwell County Libraries, the historic Ellenton Agricultural Club, and the Dunbarton Citizens group. The Barnwell County Museum is fortunate to have the space required for the Smithsonian exhibit which is a minimum of 700 square feet with 8.5 foot ceilings.

The Barnwell County Museum chose two areas of change on which to base the local exhibit and the accompanying programs and events: Boom or Bust? Welcome to the Cold War and From Mules and Plows to Laptops and GPS.

A true understanding of history cannot be obtained without a compelling portrayal of the effect of that history and its changes on individuals.

As the guest speaker for the October meeting of the Ellenton Agricultural Club, Liana Orr announced the grant award to a room of interested farmers and descendants of Ellenton and Dunbarton. As the great-granddaughter of Dr. Frederick C. Brinkley of Ellenton, Miss Orr was proud to accept the invitation of James Williams, President of the Ellenton Agricultural Club, to be the featured speaker.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America is part of Museum on Main Street, a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), state humanities councils across the nation, and local host institutions.

To learn more about Crossroads and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit www.museumonmainstreet.org. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.

The mission of S.C. Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c)(3) organization is governed by a volunteer 21-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually. www.schumanities.org

The Barnwell County Museum is located at 617 Hagood Avenue, Barnwell. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call (803) 259-1916 for more information and group tours.