HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Kathy Dunlap has been preserving Hartsville’s history for almost 30 years. She began as registrar and collection’s manager at the Hartsville Museum in September 1991.
Her job was to collect and keep records of items in the museum and those newly acquired.
“I enjoy history,” said Dunlap, a Dillon County native who grew up in the Little Rock community. “Coker is how I got to Hartsville.
Dunlap said Pat Wilmot, director of the museum at the time she was hired, called her in one day to find out if she would be interested in helping discover information about the East Home Avenue Historic District in Hartsville.
Dunlap said her first association with the museum was to give out forms to people living in that area.
“Gus and I were living in the McIntosh-Kalber house,” she said.
“I enjoyed doing the research. Gus was on the Hartsville Museum Commission at the time when I saw an advertisement in the paper for the job at the museum. He said I’d have to get it on my own. I applied, and Pat called me in for an interview.”
Dunlap said the interview went really well. She got the job.
The job was a real learning process, she said. Dunlap said she called other museums, asked questions, attended workshops and read a lot. She learned the proper way to collect, label and store artifacts.
To this day, Dunlap said, even with all of the technology, they still handwrite every item that comes to the museum, who gave it and when it was given, along with a description.
“The museum had a definite mission statement and type of artifacts it would accept,” she said. “I have stayed true to the mission.”
She said the museum wanted to collect artifacts from Hartsville’s beginning to today that could be exhibited in good condition.
“When people want to give their artifacts, their family treasures, to the museum they want to be able to trust that the items will be taken care of,” Dunlap said.
When she joined the museum staff, it was housed in the Atlantic Coastline Passenger Station on Fourth Street. The museum has since moved to the corner of Fifth Street and Home Avenue in the old post office building that was the library before it became the museum.
Dunlap became the interim director of the museum in 2000 and director in 2001.
On Friday, she will retire.
“It has just been a lot of fun,” Dunlap said. “I have had so much fun working at the museum. I have had a blast going back into the past, planning out exhibits for the coming year.”
When asked about the artifact that was acquired during her time at the museum that she felt was most significant to its collection, Dunlap said, “It happened one Friday afternoon; I was in the gallery when a couple came in.”
She recalls that the museum was very busy that day.
Dunlap said the woman told her she had something she felt needed to be in a museum and would be of a particular interest to the Hartsville Museum. The couple had come from Georgia.
Dunlap said it was a full tea service, a matched set, in excellent condition, from the Eastern Carolina Silver Company. The Company operated in Hartsville from 1907 until 1909. Maj. James L. Coker was the president.
“The silver was quadruple-plated holloware made with a copper alloy base, which was then electroplated with silver,” Dunlap said. “Each piece of silver was stamped on the bottom by a steel marker with the image of a small palmetto tree and the name of the company: E. Carolina Silver Co., Hartsville, S.C. The company dissolved in 1909. At that time, many pieces of the silver were shipped to Chicago for auction.”
Dunlap said the woman wanted the silver tea service to come back to the museum in Hartsville. It is a significant part of the museum’s collection from the East Carolina Silver Co.
“When someone unexpected walks in out of the blue, that is exciting,” Dunlap said.
“One of the oldest items we have is a valentine,” she added.
More recently the museum has acquired a Native American arrowhead collection from Wayne Harrell.
The largest piece in the museum would be the 1899 Locomobile steam car (South Carolina’s first car), Dunlap said.
When the Locomobile came to the museum, Dunlap said, she was working at the old building.
“It just went through the back doors,” she said.
The late Wilmont Berry restored the car, and it is a prominent piece in the museum’s permanent collection, Dunlap said.
Having acquired the building across the street from the museum as storage space has been a great help in preserving and storing artifacts, Dunlap said.
“A proper place to keep them safe and stored is very important,” she said.
The effort on the part of the board and staff at the museum to acquire two buildings across the street was a major step for the museum.
The latest addition to the Hartsville Museum is The Edition, an event venue.
“The Edition is exciting,” Dunlap said. “It is also important, because we have preserved another historic building.”
The Edition was once the site of the local newspaper, The Messenger.
Dunlap said she thinks her greatest contribution to the museum has to be securing the storage area.
“I think we have a responsibility for taking care of the collection of artifacts entrusted to us at the museum,” she said.
“Old photographs are ‘the golden child’ for me,” Dunlap said.
She said the collection from photographer Claude Hart had previously been stored in a box in the chamber office.
“They document the history of Hartsville,” she said.
She would like to see that exhibit upgraded, and the Sonoco exhibit as well.
The sculpture courtyard completed during her time as director has been another highlight of her career, she said. She said it was great getting to work with the artists on that project.
Adding another sculpture courtyard is something Dunlap would like to see happen.
“I’d like to see another sculpture added to the courtyard next to the museum and to see the courtyard used more for outdoor events,” she said.
Those are two of her regrets at not having accomplished.
Dunlap said she hasn’t had any second thoughts about retiring.
“Everybody talks about how you just know when it is time to retire,” she said. “It is time.”
She plans to spend more time with family, do some yardwork, travel and take every day as it comes. She and husband Gus have three grown children and four grandchildren.
“It has been an all-around good experience,” she said. “We have a classy place for a small-town museum.”