Museum of History
Currently Closed for Maintenance and Exhibit installation until March 2017 except for appointment only (828) 465-0383
Location: 30 N. College Avenue, Newton NC 28658
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Admission: Free, donations appreciated
The Catawba County Museum of History offers testimony to the hardy settlers of the Catawba River Valley and their resourceful descendants who carved a world-renowned furniture and textile empire out of the backwoods.
It is the story of the American Dream as perceived by the self-sufficient Scotch-Irish, German, English, and African peoples who followed the Native American trails along the Catawba River in search of a place to call home. The story is artfully displayed in the unique setting of the former Catawba County Courthouse, an imposing National Register Renaissance Revival structure built in 1924, on the square in downtown Newton.
The collections include agricultural tools and implements forged from hand-dug iron ore, and handcrafted household cupboards, wagon benches, beds, tables, chests, cradles, plantation desks, a firkin, and miniature furniture samples shown by “drummers” or early salesmen.
There are treasured military uniforms, including a British Red Coat from the Revolutionary War era (one of the few such coats in existence). A major repository of Civil War objects, the museum displays the Clinton A. Cilley Collection, including this distinguished colonel’s field desk; firearms, notably a Colt 45 swiped from Stoneman’s Raiders by a Newton boy and handed down through his family; and an 1861 locally hand-made and hand-dyed First National Flag of the Confederacy, the “Stars and Bars.”
Two full-scale, original antebellum parlors have been reconstructed and preserved in the museum, the Shuford-Jarett from 1830, featuring deft molding-plane embellishments—in the time before power tools—and pegged muntins, and the Munday Parlor from 1840, with trompe l’oeil dentils, marbleized wooden baseboards, and a hand-painted dazzling central medallion. Visitors can also walk through Dr. Hambrick’s 1920s medical office, containing his ice-cold stainless steel examination table and an extensive variety of instruments from the period.
Illustrative of the Catawba Valley’s long tradition of alkaline glazed stoneware, the pottery exhibit includes a ten gallon Daniel Seagle and other late nineteenth century pieces by Thomas Ritchie and Sylvanus Hartsoe. Also on display is a piece by Craig, who presides over the exhibit in a 1997 panoramic photograph by Benjamin Porter. Part of “Panoramic Catawba,” the CCHA’s on-going photographic documentary project, the late Burlon Craig is pictured outside his pottery shed, at home in Vale.
Textiles include hand-stitched quilts, pioneer’s homespun, the jeweled frocks and hats of Twenties’ flappers, and, made by local women, a detailed and colorful tapestry depicting the county’s history in celebration of North Carolina’s 400th anniversary. Visitors will also find a gallery of looms and spinning wheels devoted to early weaving techniques and one with a number of industrial machines used to make socks in a local knitting mill.
A 1930’s racecar, which roared around the county fairgrounds, is complemented with a photograph gallery of the first race at the Hickory Motor Speedway, in 1951, rich bootleggers (the rumors are true) having funded its construction.
Perfect for learners of all ages—or for those seeking entertaining educational gifts—the Museum Bookstore offers the CCHA’s extensive selection ofpublications, as well as prints, cards, videos, the 1886 Yoder Map, and other items pertaining to county history.
Researchers and family historians will enjoy the museum's Library & Archives.
The 1924 Courthouse
The stately elegance of the 1924 Courthouse is an attraction in itself. Sited in downtown Newton on a grassy square with mature oaks, the Renaissance Revival structure was designed by Willard G. Rogers of Charlotte and built by J. J. Stout for $250,000.
The two-story courthouse is faced with Indiana limestone and composed of two wings flanking a main block, whose second level, the courtroom, is treated as a piano nobile. This level’s engaged Ionic columns divide the bays, setting off the arched windows, and carry a simple entablature and stone balustrade. The east and west entrances are surmounted by an entablature displaying the seal of justice on a center cartouche.
The interior is characterized by the same refinement of ornament as the exterior. Delicate plaster moldings and cornices are found throughout. The north entrance’s sweeping staircase, with marble treads and risers, is embellished with a brass rail supported by spiraling iron balusters. Above the stair, a rectangular stained-glass sky light, set in a deep molded frame enriched with delicate anthemia, catches the eye before the courtroom proper, where a portrait gallery of local judges and attorneys, begun by Judge Wilson Warlick, bands the entire chamber. The room’s Corinthian pilasters, each with reliefs of Blind Justice (the Roman goddess Justitia, from the Greek forerunner Themis), and other ornaments reminiscent of Federal style Roman forms are unusually delicate for a public building, even one in the Neo-Classical Revival period’s most sophisticated stage, as exemplified in the 1924 Catawba County Courthouse.