Facing the Polk County Courthouse square in Columbus, a repurposed firehouse is now home to a true, one-of-a-kind, national treasure. The House of Flags is believed to be the only museum in the country to display every official version of the USA’s national flag, every individual state flag and numerous other flags. Every flag has its own story, and with more than 250 flags on exhibit, the museum opens the door to a wealth of American history.
Columbus is approximately 83 miles from Charlotte, about a 90-minute drive.
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The first of the museum’s three rooms displays the many regional flags flown in the time leading up to the adoption of our first national flag on June 14, 1777. Exhibited in the second room are all 27 versions of the Stars and Stripes, with signage next to each that tell which state or states had joined the Union and thus prompted the change.
The flag adopted in 1795, after Vermont and Kentucky had joined, may look the most unusual. It’s the only one with 15 stars and 15 stripes. Recognizing that adding a stripe for each new state would become impractical over time, Congress passed the Flag Act in 1818; it limited the number of stripes on the flag to 13, with a star to be added for each new state. By law, a star is added to the flag on the Fourth of July following the admission of the state. No star is identified with a specific state.
The current 50-star flag has remained unchanged for 53 years. Some designs, such as the 49-star flag adopted after Alaska joined the Union, flew for only a few months before the addition of Hawaii necessitated a change. No U.S. flag ever becomes obsolete, however, and each is still a legal flag, entitled to the same respect as the current version.
Individual state flags are the focus of the museum’s third room and are displayed fully extended so the details of each can be examined and appreciated. The symbolism used in each flag reveals much about the respective state.
In the case of the North Carolina state flag, for example, the dates May 20, 1775, and April 12, 1776, above and below a single white star in a blue field commemorate, respectively, the dates of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves. The former preceded the national declaration by 13 months; the latter earned North Carolina the distinction of being the first colony to have its colonial assembly officially endorse a call for independence. Although North Carolina joined the Union in 1789, no official state flag was adopted until the Civil War.
Another interesting bit of trivia: Ohio’s unique, swallow-tailed, triangular banner is not a flag, but is properly called a “burgee.”