By Joanna Grey Talbot
Every new place that I visit I always look for three things: a museum, a used bookstore, and a local coffee shop. Even on my honeymoon last fall my poor husband was dragged to so many museums and coffee shops – I just can’t help myself!
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, was my visit and tour of the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society Museum. Robin McAllister, one of the two part-time employees, gave my mom and me a wonderful and detailed tour of the museum. Not only is she knowledgeable about the area’s and the building’s history but you can tell she is passionate about it. Her family’s history has been intertwined with Mount Pleasant and the museum’s building for generations.
The building that the museum is housed in was built in 1854-55 and her great-great grandfather was brought from nearby Gaston County to lay the brick. At the time there were no masons in the Mount Pleasant area. He was commissioned by the North Carolina Lutheran Synod to help construct the building for a boys’ boarding school, Western Carolina Male Academy. It then became the North Carolina College in 1859.
The school temporarily closed during the Civil War. The entire student body and their teachers enlisted in the State Troops of North Carolina on the grounds of the school on August 6, 1861. On August 19th they marched to Concord, the nearest railroad station. At the Confederate training camp at Camp Mason in Warren County, NC, they became Cabarrus Phalanx, Co. H, 8th NC Regiment. They would serve until the end of the war and over sixty of them would not return home, having giving the ultimate sacrifice.
After the war all of the school’s money was tied up in Confederate bonds so they had to start over. In 1903 the school became the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute (MPCI) and was military by nature, although it was not affiliated with any of the military branches. The school flourished until the Great Depression hit in 1929 and the Lutheran synod had to pull their support. It closed for good in 1933.
The building would be used for a variety of purposes and even sat vacant for a while. After World War II it was converted into apartments for returning GIs and their families. In 1973 the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society was formed and as the concept of historical preservation of buildings was sweeping the nation the society purchased the building to restore it. The museum opened in 1980. In 1998 they purchased the second building, Society Hall, and it was opened in 2013.
Today the museum’s main building has 30 themed rooms spread out over three floors. The exhibits cover topics from MPCI, Mont Amoena Seminary (the girls’ boarding school that operated down the street from 1859-1927 but is no longer standing), vintage toys, one-room schoolrooms, farming, local churches, a recreated general store, and Mount Pleasant’s participation in every war since the Civil War. Two of my favorite exhibits were the one-room schoolroom and local farming. In the schoolroom there is a tribute to Helen Kathleen Misenheimer who grew up in Mount Pleasant, graduated from Mont Amoena, and received her BS in music from Catawba College. She taught music for over 45 years at a variety of schools that included Mont Amoena, MPCI, and public schools in North Carolina and Florida. For many summers she was the music director at Camp Yonahlossee in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was a camp for girls from 1922 to the late 1980s. In the farming exhibit I learned about Charles Thayer who invented the gin saw sharpener in the 1930s. Until he created his portable sharpener, farmers had to take valuable time to remove the blade that needed sharpening and take it to be sharpened. Thayer saved the farmers time by being able to come to them.
There is so much to learn at this wonderful museum that I have not even scratched the surface. Do yourself a favor and go visit. It is open Sundays from 2-5pm and Mondays from 10am-4pm. You can do a self-guided tour but I highly recommend a guided tour. Admission is $3 but all proceeds go to supporting the museum’s programs and projects, such as the completion of the Society Hall renovation so it will be fully functional for events (community meetings, historical programs, and private rentals). Start exploring!
1100 N. Main Street, Mount Pleasant, NC (park behind the building on N. College St.)