The Warren County Historical Museum, Inc. Board of Trustees is moving forward with plans to convert the former Warren County Jail at 201 E. Macon St., Warrenton after county commissioners approved a lease-purchase agreement earlier this month.
The Warren County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 6 approved a memorandum of understanding for a lease-to-own agreement between Warren County and the Board of Trustees of the Warren County Historical Museum, Inc. covering a total of five years. The WCHM will pay a total of $5, or $1 per year for five years. At the end of the five-year term, the county will transfer ownership of the jail to WCHM.
The Warren County Historical Museum, Inc. was recently formed as a nonprofit entity with a board of trustees that includes Dr. Deloris Jerman, chairman; Dr. Cosmos George, Vice President; Reverend Mary Somerville, Reverend Calvin Jones, Daymond Milam, Sandra Lovely and Dr. Mark Wethington.
Plans presented to the Board of County Commissioners in the fall describe the organization’s goal as “to preserve the old jail building as a historic landmark and use it as a base to build, display and present an authentic and insightful understanding of Warren County history. It will showcase the history of Warren County through collaboration with local, state, and other entities to preserve our history, educate the public, and use technology to expand the access that will bring our rich, and sometimes difficult, history to life.
Jerman said the history of the old prison made it the logical site for the museum, which the board hopes will serve as a way to bring the local community together.
“We think it’s a great place to showcase the whole story of Warren County, to tell the confidence, but be insightful, respectful of all,” she said. “We want to build a bridge (for the community) to come together and work together to move forward.”
The museum project is divided into phases over a period of five years. Jerman said the nonprofit met its first-year goals, which included plans to procure former prison property and assess the condition of the structure.
Years two through five will focus on repairing and restoring the physical structure of the prison with the goal of completing the restoration by the end of year five. Plans call for the museum to open in the sixth year.
George said an initial cost estimate for the museum project was over $1.2 million. However, he added that since the cost of construction materials continues to fluctuate, it is difficult to get an accurate and up-to-date estimate.
The nonprofit faces challenges that will impact the catering budget. Plans presented to county commissioners indicate that lead and asbestos must be eliminated. In addition, the structure is falling apart.
The jail was originally built in the 1860s, but the building has not been in operation since 1985. Museum plans show the county used the building as storage for several years, but it has been unoccupied since during. Over time, the roof collapsed in two sections of the building.
Jerman said fundraising efforts have begun with more opportunities to come. The non-profit organization is also seeking grants. Additionally, donations from the public are accepted and may be mailed to Warren County Historical Museum, Inc., PO Box 604, Warrenton, NC 27589.
As preparations are underway to restore the old prison, the organization is seeking community feedback on what to feature in the museum. A community forum will be held early next year, but the date has not yet been set.
“The community will come together to voice their ideas and thoughts on what they want to see,” Jerman said.
Additionally, the museum’s eight-member board of trustees, which served as a working group, will be expanded to 20 to include community members.
“We want the finished product to be something everyone can stand,” Jerman said.
George described the museum as a facility that will draw people to Warren County and encourage former residents to return.
“When you have a facility in the community that you’re proud of, it draws people in,” he said. “It will bring people back to the community.”
Jerman said the board is currently working to develop the museum concept.
“We won’t finalize it until we get a chance to meet the people,” she said. “It’s not our museum. This is the county museum.
The council continues to research the history of the jail and the county to find new inspirations for the museum while waiting for architectural drawings. Plans for a museum website are underway. The council invites local youth to participate in the development of the website.
For more information about the museum, contact Dr. Deloris Jerman at 919-606-0987 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Dr. Cosmos George at 252-213-2310 or email@example.com.