museum

The Monroe Museum has a Monroe Girls’ Drum and Bugle Corps exhibit. This organization helped put Monroe “on the map.”

Just ahead of Monroe’s Bicentennial celebration, the Monroe Museum at 227 S. Broad St. reopened to the public last week with three new galleries and three new exhibits.

The reopening was stalled for a year and a half, due to the pandemic.

In 2012, museum founders initially wanted to establish a museum solely about the Monroe Girls’ Drum and Bugle Corps, a successful organization that helped put Monroe “on the map.”

The corps began in 1949 under the direction of the late Wayne Shields. Local girls from sixth through 12th grades auditioned and, if selected, practiced five days a week, 51 weeks of the year to prepare for various performances around the country; these included the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Dawn Griffin, museum board president, was a member of the Girls Corps. She said the corps exhibit is unique and makes her proud.

Museum historian Steve Brown agrees. Brown said his wife, Susan, also was a member of the corps. He said the corps exhibit offers patrons the museum’s first touch screen display.

Still, museum organizers decided to establish a museum that encompassed all of Monroe’s rich history, Brown said.

“A committee came together, later a board was formed and work began in earnest,” he said. “A temporary exhibit was put together and displayed at the Monroe Art Guild in 2013.”

Brown said a preview for the museum was held in November 2015, and a grand opening was held one year later. The museum closed in February 2020 to add exhibits. Brown said it was only supposed to have been shut down for three weeks.

“We have been very fortunate to have dozens of citizens give and loan artifacts, photographs, family archives and other treasures connected in some way to the history and culture of our wonderful community,” he said.

The extra time that the museum was closed worked in their favor, Griffin said. She said it enabled organizers to expand the museum, rebuild exhibits and properly display new materials.

“I toured a number of small community museums,” Griffin said. “What I found is our little museum is quite extraordinary.”

Both Griffin and past board President Kim Mulkey-Smith touted the museum’s local Hometown Teams exhibit that spotlights Monroe’s prominent athletes and school athletics. The Monroe Museum and Monroe Walton Center for the Arts played host to the Smithsonian’s Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America national tour in 2017.

“We’ve had two Olympians from Monroe,” Griffin said, referring to recent silver medalist and track star Javianne Oliver and Patricia Roberts, who brought home silver as a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team in 1976.

Griffin said the Hometown Teams exhibit would be displayed just one more year.

“That one will come down and make way for a brand new exhibit,” she said. The next new exhibit will cover the history of the textile industry in Monroe, Griffin said.

The community was once home to cotton mills and clothing factories, she said.

Brown said the museum does its best to depict the history of its Black community. He pointed out an exhibit on local businessman Boyd “Buddy” Conyers and his wife, Louelle, and the display honoring slain Monroe police Officer Michael Etchison.

The historian said it’s challenging to find resources related to Black history because materials are not always available and the language used in old newspaper articles about Black residents is prohibitive.

Griffin and Brown credit generous benefactors and donations from patrons for keeping the museum going. Brown said the city has been supportive by giving the museum space in the old city hall, which also houses the Visitors Center.

In addition to hosting adult visitors, the museum has opened its doors to large groups of area school children, according to Griffin.

Museum volunteers also perform educational outreach. Mulkey-Smith helped oversee a history contest for eighth grade students from Carver Middle School, Monroe Country Day School and George Walton Academy, in honor of the city’s Bicentennial. Student winners will be recognized in an award ceremony at 4 p.m. Sunday at the museum, she said.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

For more information, call 678-635-8997 or visit the Monroe Museum Facebook page.

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