Historical Society to celebrate 160th birthday of museum building

Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society museum opened in the restored building in 1980.
Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society museum opened in the restored building in 1980. EASTERN CABARRUS HISTORICAL SOCIETY

It’s not often you can celebrate a 160th birthday. But the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society is inviting the public to do just that as members mark the birth of the building that now houses their museum in Mount Pleasant.

In 1855, that building, then known as the Western Carolina Male Academy, opened its doors to students. During the years, “like all ladies who live a long time,” she changed her name occasionally, according to Historical Society secretary Vickey Cline.

She became North Carolina College, then Carolina English and Classical School, and finally the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute. Why do they refer to the building as female? “Because,” Cline says, “she was loved by so many men.”

The building has a long and sometimes rocky history: By the Depression, the school had closed, and the building abandoned. In 1941 the property was auctioned, then resold in smaller parcels. The Rev. E.G. Parrom bought the building in 1947 in the hope of opening an orphanage.

Those plans fell through, and the building was converted into apartments where Parrom and others lived for a time. But by the the mid-1950s the building was abandoned again.

Fast forward to 1970, when John Coble, the principal of Mount Pleasant High School, had an idea to preserve local history for the education of his students. He enlisted the help of Postmaster Eugene Hough in a quest to find an old log cabin which could be moved to campus and become a repository for historic artifacts.

In a little more than two years of searching, Coble and Hough found nothing suitable.

In 1973, Dr. R. Brown McAllister heard of their plan and suggested purchasing the old Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute building. There was concern that the old building might not be worth saving, but after John Fink, of Fink and Barrier Construction, inspected the property and deemed it structurally sound, plans began in earnest. On April 1, 1973 a committee of Hough, McAllister, Hoy Moose, Dr. A. L. Barringer, Edith Peninger and Arthur Lee Kluttz determined to purchase the property with a budget of $5,000.

Parrom eventually agreed to sell the building for $7,500, and on June 10, 1973, a group of 32 residents met to discuss plans for establishing a museum and historical society. Restoration began that August, and on Sept. 6, 1980, the museum opened first to former students and then, two weeks later, to the public.

Today the museum is still run by residents who comprise the Historical Society, and two low-pay, part-time employees, said society president Ben Callahan.

The money raised to purchase the building decades ago came from fundraisers, food sales, membership fees, donations and grants, and that, along with volunteer labor, is what keeps the museum in operation today, Callahan said.

“We do it to maintain a knowledge of our past history,” Callahan said. The museum’s collection, three floors of artifacts focused entirely on local history, is more than you might expect to find in a small town like Mount Pleasant.

“We’re Cabarrus County’s best-kept secret,” said vice-president Robin McAllister.

Marcia Morris is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

The Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society will to celebrate the museum building’s 160th birthday from 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 27 with cake and Champagne punch as well as photos from her past and a multi-media presentation. The public is welcome. The ECHS annual meeting will be held 2 p.m. Sept. 20. It is open to the public, but you must be a member to vote.