New center to be forerunner for regional museums

New center to be forerunner for regional museums

June 10th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

Employees with Armstrong Relocation, Wes Dothard, Ronald Williamson and April Kyner, from left, help move artifacts and memorabilia into the Chattanooga History Center's new location adjacent to the Tennessee Aquarium off of Market Street.


The History Center's exhibits may not be ready until mid 2012, but members are still out promoting the past. Here's a list of this month's events:

• What: Tour of Ross's Landing

• When: 7 p.m. June 21

• Where: Ross's Landing

• Information: Daryl Black, 423-865-3247, ext. 10.

• What: Going deeper into the Civil War, a guided tour of the Hunter Museum's exhibition "Between the States"

• When: 6 p.m. June 23

• Where: Hunter Museum of American Art

• Cost: $9.95, free to History Center and Hunter Museum members

The Chattanooga History Center's move to its new Market Street office and exhibit area began Tuesday, but it'll be a while before the dust settles.


It takes three months for dust to settle after building construction ends and exhibit construction can begin.

"They're going to be encasing artifacts and they don't want the dust," said Marlene Payne, deputy director of the center. "They want every speck of dust to settle."

The new multimillion-dollar center, located in the former Visitors Center next to the Tennessee Aquarium and above TGI Friday's, is set to open to the public in about a year. The Visitors Center moved to the former Bijou Theatre on Broad Street.

And more than just local history buffs are taking notice.

"It is what is arguably the new model for doing a history museum in the United States, and that's not just me making this argument. That's people in the museum world who have seen these kinds of exhibits for their entire lives," History Center Director Daryl Black said. "It's this idea that you teach history from the perspective of how people acted in the past and how people imagine their past."

The center, formally the Chattanooga Regional History Museum, will pick up the thread of that story just after the Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783. Exhibits will feature local Cherokee tribes and their experiences at the start of the Trail of Tears in the 1830s, moving through history up to Chattanooga's renaissance and how the city is changing today.

"We use those experiences as a tool for looking at ourselves," Black said. "That is brand new. Most history museums tell a story and that's it. There's no payoff. It's old and important because it's old and important."

The private nonprofit organization's directors think there's more to their city and their collection than "old and important" artifacts, and they hope the new exhibits will make others feel the same way.

"We hope that the takeaway will not be, 'Hey, Chattanooga's a neat place,'" Payne said. "The takeaway is the decisions people make and how and why they made those decisions."

Of course, the center has no shortage of old and important artifacts it'll use to tell the area's story, such as a potbellied stove, a tea cart, a grand piano and a Navy veteran's World War II chest.

By the end of Wednesday, all of those artifacts were stored in a room full of 8-foot-tall shelves sitting on tracks so they can be easily moved around like books in a book case.

"It's what you do to keep from taking up six acres to store your collection," Payne said. "Moving a museum is not overly fun, it's not easy, but it's getting done."

After the Chattanooga Visitors Center moved to its new Broad Street location across from the Majestic 12, the vacated property was spacious enough for the History Center's exhibits. The physical location was an added bonus.

"It's on authentic ground," Black said. "This is the origin point for the modern city."