As Adria Focht walked down the pathway to the 244-year-old Hezekiah Alexander Homesite, she stopped mid-sentence to pick up a tiny piece of glazed ceramic lying in the wet brush — something most people wouldn’t have noticed.
“It’s historic in some way,” Focht said.
From visitor to now president and CEO of the Charlotte Museum of History, Focht is envisioning ways for the museum to highlight Charlotte’s history -- new and old. She started last November, and she’s focusing on getting students back inside, creating ways to reflect east Charlotte’s diversity and firing up adults about history itself -- maybe by putting some of the community’s own belongings in museum exhibitions.
Focht said it’s important to focus on history that’s 50 years old, not just history that’s over two centuries old. She plans to continue programs that have been a hit in the past such as the “Mad About Modern Homes Tour,” which will kick off this September. Visitors will get to walk around Charlotte homes that have mid-century and modern architecture and design.
Before taking this job, Focht said, when she was director of King’s Mountain Historical Museum, she came often to this museum. And her vision for it now is exactly what she envisioned when she first came.
Since the recession, Focht said, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have struggled to find funding for field trips to the history museum. She said she is in the process of looking for funding so that more school groups can come to the museum.
“We have generations of people who stop in and say ‘Oh yeah, I remember coming here as a third-grader,’” Focht said. “What scares me is you know there’s 50 years of kids with that experience, but these last 10 years, (students) are not going to know that this history exists in their backyard.”
She also said she plans to engage adults — especially young adults — through expanding programs such as neighborhood walking tours where visitors can experience Charlotte’s different neighborhoods. While the tours typically happen in the spring, she wants to make these available during other times of the year.
“(I want to) get them excited so that they’re going to want to be the people who advocate and help preserve those structures in the future and those neighborhoods in the future,” Focht said.
Focht said she wants to launch community-driven exhibits where community members can bring items in that represent their history in Charlotte and their heritage. She said they plan to reveal the exhibit at the 2019 Independence Day and Naturalization Ceremony. They are currently seeking funding to build capacity for the exhibits.
She said she hopes these exhibitions can represent the cultural diversity she sees in east Charlotte.
Such inclusion “is going to be a big part of what we do for relevancy moving forward,” Focht said. “So that everybody feels that their history, and that their heritage is reflected in this institution.”
Focht’s other big goal is to highlight the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite — something she said many people don’t even know exists. The house — what Focht calls the gem of the museum — was built in 1774, making it the oldest home in Mecklenburg County.
“It’s the only place in the area that you can step inside of a structure built before the American Revolution when Queen Charlotte was still our monarch,” Focht said.
“Here’s the real history, right here in your backyard.”
Charlotte Museum of History; 3500 Shamrock Drive in east Charlotte.