New Albany, MS – About 50 people participated in a ground-breaking ceremony Thursday morning, July 2, for a major new addition to the Union County Heritage Museum. The event marks a major milestone for the project, which was first announced by the Union County Heritage Society in April 2011.
The new structure of about 6,000 square feet will house a library, new exhibit galleries, a new meeting room, collection storage space, office space and restrooms. When the addition is complete the museum will have about 10,000 square feet of climate controlled space.
A major feature of the new museum space will be a library to house a large collection of books by and about Nobel Prize recipient William Faulkner, who was born in 1897 in a house within a few hundred feet of the museum location. Said to be among the largest collections of Faulkner-related books and other materials ever assembled, the collection was donated to the museum by New Albany resident Murray Coffey, who was present for the ground-breaking event.
The William Faulkner Library portion of the new museum space will open onto the Faulkner Literary Garden, which has been developed over a number of years and which is devoted to plants indigenous to north Mississippi.
Among other features of the new museum structure will be dedicated exhibited space for about 30 wildlife mounts from the African and North American hunting and fishing expeditions of the late Chico Foote. The museum has owned the Foote collection for a number of years but has not previously had adequate space to exhibit much of it properly.
The new museum meeting room will provide seating for about 100 people.
The addition is expected to cost $1.1-million. A state bond issue approved by the state legislature during its recent session will provide $500,000, nearly half the funding needed for the project. The rest of the money currently in hand for the museum expansion has come from grants and private donations. Union County Heritage Society President Vance Witt said Thursday morning that about $100,000 in additional donations are needed to complete fund-raising for the project.
The construction contract has been awarded to Ganger Property Management of New Albany, and construction is expected to start immediately.
The Union County Heritage Museum was founded in 1991. Most of the current museum space was first occupied in 2000, the same year the board hired Jill Smith, who is still the director of the institution. Smith has overseen significant additions to the museum’s collections during her 15-year tenure, and widespread community involvement with the museum has been developed through programs she has initiated.
The museum has about 5,000 visitors each year at its Cleveland Street location in New Albany and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2016.