The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

August 27, 2008

OLD SPARTA

Historic Society plans a museum

T. J. ROYAL

The Old Sparta Historic Preservation Society has big plans for the old Primitive Baptist Church it recently purchased.

It plans to turn the church, on Lance Lane off N.C. 42, into a community museum, highlighting the history of the once prosperous river port town.

Eugenia Wade, president of the society, said so far, the group has received a few items for the museum, including a 12-feet-long canoe. The canoe was found in the Tar River in October and kept at Edgecombe Community College until July when it was given to the society.

The society, which has 19 members, formed in November after the discovery of the canoe. Since then, they have had monthly meetings to discuss plans for the church and how to turn it into a museum.

To fit items into the building, around 30 pews currently in the church will have to be moved. While Wade said some of the pews will likely stay in the building once it becomes a museum, there are no current plans for moving the rest of them.

Another item the society has received so far includes a sock-making machine given by a Pinetops businessman. While it's not directly related to Old Sparta, Wade said the machine highlights how industry shifted away after a railroad line came through Pinetops.

Other people have offered items for the museum, but Wade said they do not have a storage space for many items, so they are limited in what they can take.

Still, she said she wants people to come forward with items, like stories and newspaper articles, about Old Sparta so the society can have a copy of them for the museum.

Monika Fleming, chairwoman of the English/Humanities department at Edgecombe Community College and an Edgecombe County historian, said the Old Sparta area is one of the earliest settlements in the county. While it wasn't officially organized as a community until the 1800s, Fleming said that land deeds in the Old Sparta area date back to the 1730s, an early period in the county's history.

After Hurricane Floyd basically wiped the community off the map in 1999, Fleming said the discovery of an 85-feet-long boat in the community around a year ago, below the bridge on N.C. 42, helped rejuvenate its spirit.

"With the discovery of the boat, it's sort of revitalized the community to try to get their heritage back," Fleming said.

Wade said that if the society could receive the 85-feet-long boat for the museum, it would be a "shot in the arm" for the project.

While Old Sparta's history goes back almost 300 years, the history of the society's canoe goes back 100 to 150 years, according to Nathan Henry, a conservator with the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch. Surprisingly, he said the canoe could have been used as recently as 50 years ago.

Henry added that it also could have served as a family heirloom. "It would not be unusual for a grandfather to pass down his canoe" to a new generation, he said.

The Old Sparta Historic Preservation Society has planned several fund-raising events from this month through November, to pay The Kehukee Foundation $22,000 that is still owed for the church.

That money will have to be raised by Jan. 5 to pay off the bill, Wade said.

A toy boat race will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Old Sparta boat landing. The boat theme is in honor of the unearthed canoe and the 85-feet-long boat below the N.C. 42 bridge. Tickets cost $20 a piece, or two for $30. The grand prize is $500.

There will be a community-wide yard sale at Lance Lane on Sept. 6. And on Sept. 13, there will be a concert at ECC's McIntyre Auditorium that's sponsored by the North Carolina Music Network.

In October, Wade said the society plans to have a Brunswick stew sale, and in November, there will be a turkey shoot.

So far, Wade said she thinks the society has done a "very good job" in its efforts to bring a museum to the area. She received a boost after a member of a historic society in Pamlico County told her it took their group 30 years to buy a building for a museum.

She added that the members of the Old Sparta Historic Preservation Society "jumped in feet first" into the project and believed they could get a museum in the area.

"(We're) walking by a lot of faith," Wade said, as Jan. 5 comes closer.

People interested in donating stories and articles about Old Sparta are asked to send them to P.O. Box 512, Tarboro NC 27886.