New window on our past taking shape

Aug. 03, 2013 @ 04:34 PM

The Museum of Durham History, if you haven’t noticed, is rapidly taking shape at the western end of the downtown loop.

The museum had a couple of open houses last week to show off the progress at The History Hub, its soon-to-open exhibit space and headquarters at 500 West Main St. If you remember it as the old DATA bus transfer station, before DATA moved a few hundred yards to its imposing digs at the Durham Station, you’ll barely recognize the building.

And it has come a long way since last fall, when I had the good fortune to take part in one of its first “pop-up” museums, not long after the museum had taken over the building.

Installation of new, bright, exhibit-enhancing lighting is almost complete. The floor is newly carpeted. Freshly painted walls, some newly built, are ready to begin displaying exhibits.

The museum will have a grand opening Oct. 12, so the next two months will be busy as the building contractor moves out and exhibit installers begin to give a true museum feel to the building.

Technology will be in abundance.

One of the permanent exhibits will be a Durham timeline, where visitors can see pictures highlighting various key moments in Durham’s history.  Touching “hot spots” on them will reveal more information.

There will be a story corner where, the Hub’s website says, “visitors add to Durham’s digital archives by recording memories, experiences and family lore.” In a “kids corner” a “trunk full of dress-up clothes” will give youngsters a chance to pretend they are various individuals from Durham’s past.

On the side of the building facing the loop, window displays will give passing pedestrians and motorists a chance to see some of what the museum has to offer.

Inside, the Hub will have space for temporary exhibits, so there will always be something new to see if you haven’t visited for a while. Overall, the new museum promises to be, as its website says, “a place to engage, a place to learn, a place to start.”

Indeed, the museum sees its role as being much larger than just the exhibits in a building. It plans to launch retrofitted buses as a “Hub on Wheels” to take its story to parks, festivals, schools and fire stations. It has featured “History Beneath Our Feet” on its website long before it had a building.

That the museum has reached this point is a tribute to the vision and drive of many people, perhaps no one more than Tom Krakauer who, after retiring as director of the Museum of Life and Science, turned his passion toward making the idea of a local history museum a reality.

He and two others who’ve had much to do with birthing the museum – board members Steve Channing and Lew Meyers, its chairman, were on hand Wednesday morning when I dropped by, as was energetic and ebullient Executive Director Katie Spencer.

Their excitement was palpable.

They will be infecting the community with that excitement Oct. 12, when the grand opening will include a parade along Main Street, from near Golden Belt to the Hub. There will be high school marching bands, Civil War reenactors, a women’s roller derby team and floats highlighting Duke Homestead, Hayti Heritage Center and several local businesses.

“The parade will reflect the tone of the entire Grand Opening Day – fun, casual, and maybe a little unexpected — kind of like Durham itself,” the museum website notes.

Those are all compelling attributes of Durham – it will be wonderful to have a new venue for helping us understand the history that shaped today’s city.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or at