North Carolina Hall of History and WWI

Author: 
Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Fred A. Olds, the father of the North Carolina Museum of History, began collecting objects from North Carolina’s past prior to 1900. He traveled all across North Carolina, picking up pieces of the state’s history, and listening to the stories associated with each item told by local citizens. In 1898, a gallery of history was set up in the State Museum (now called the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) in the old Agriculture Building in Raleigh, North Carolina. Olds soon developed a large private collection, and suggested that his collection and the historical material in the State Museum be combined to establish a state historical museum. On December 5, 1902, Olds’ private collection and the State Museum’s collection were merged and opened to the public as the Hall of History.                                                                                      

At the start of World War I in 1914, the North Carolina Historical Commission took over the operation of the North Carolina Hall of History, and assigned to the Hall two main purposes for its continued operation: 1) to teach the history of North Carolina to the public, and 2) to preserve historical material for and of the state. Items in the Hall were put on display in crowded glass display cases, often organized according to historical theme.

During World War I, Fred A. Olds was tasked with locating and gathering textual materials and artifacts regarding the Great War for exhibition by the state of North Carolina. The goal of such an exhibition being to educate the public and school children on the developing aspects of the war. Prior to the United States’ entrance into the war, Olds focused his collection scope on gathering materials related to the involvement of European nations in the war. When the United States joined the war, Olds embarked on gathering war-related items connected with North Carolina’s contributions to the war effort. He collected pamphlets, posters, soldiers’ letters, military awards and certificates, photographs of combat scenes and home front activities, and other such items for inclusion in the Hall of History’s war exhibits.

One of Olds’ major acquisitions of war-time materials was a set of WWI war posters, made up of the original drawings or watercolors of 43 different posters created by T. S. Davidson and Fred V. Owen. These posters were created while both men worked at the Central Recruiting Station of the U.S. Army in Greensboro, N.C. These posters are online as part of the digital WWI collection of the North Carolina Digital Collections here for Fred Owen’s original poster artwork and here for T. S. Davidson’s original poster artwork.

Within the World War I Papers in the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina, there are items which Olds collected and exhibited in the Hall of History WWI exhibits. A small number of these items—together with their original display informational notecards—were preserved in the collection North Carolina Hall of History Materials (WWI 7).

Other materials were divided up into different subject groupings following the war, and organized as part of the larger World War I records collection project by the North Carolina Historical Commission. They now make up such collections in the World War I Papers as: North Carolina Council of Defense Records (WWI 1), North Carolina County War Records (WWI 2), North Carolina Draft Records (WWI 3), North Carolina School Wartime Materials (WWI 5), and North Carolina Organizations Records (WWI 6), among others. The Hall of History's legacy is the existence of a large number of WWI materials that have survived in both the State Archives and the North Carolina Museum of History. 

For more information on the North Carolina Historical Commission’s WWI records collection efforts, check out this  blog post on the North Carolina DNCR WWI blog.