The S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Cultural Heritage Trust Program has a new home befitting its dedication to discovering and preserving the state’s history.
The program has moved millions upon millions of artifacts spanning thousands of years into the Parker Annex, a building with a storied past at the southeastern corner of the Commons at BullStreet development.
It’s the first time all the trust’s possessions, which range from Native American artifacts to remnants of Colonial British forts to pieces of African-American history, have been stored in the same place, said archaeologist Meg Gaillard.
“Everything that represents the history of South Carolina is housed within our collection, which is what makes it so cool to finally have it all in one space,” Gaillard said.
Previously, the artifacts were stored at other state facilities or in the offices of state archaeologists. One of those offices near Gills Creek flooded during the historic storms of 2015, necessitating the cleanup efforts of 135 volunteers and highlighting the need for a permanent home for the collection.
Now, 1,900 banker boxes full of treasures are stored in climate-controlled, high-density curation stacks that run on a track and can be locked down, Gaillard said.
When the trust learned the 9,344-square-foot Parker Annex had space to lease, members investigated to see if the building could accommodate the group’s needs for laboratory, storage and teaching space, as well as future growth. Though the building is only being used by DNR staff currently, the trust plans to schedule public programs there beginning in 2018.
Parker Annex was built in 1910 to relieve overcrowding of African-American male patients housed in the Parker Building on the grounds of the S.C. State Hospital. By 1926, those patients had been moved elsewhere, and male Caucasian patients with tuberculosis had moved in.
Before the annex’s construction, the corner where it stands was the site of a Union prisoner of war camp, Camp Asylum, Gaillard said. The camp operated from Dec. 14, 1864, to Feb. 14, 1865, when the approach of Gen. William Sherman’s army forced the prisoners to be relocated.
Such details matter to Gaillard, a member of the S.C. State Board of Review for the National Register of Historic Places.
“Parker Annex was important to us because of its historical value,” she said, adding that having the various artifacts in the same place increases the trust’s research and collaboration possibilities. “We want to think of this facility not as a place where these artifacts go to live for decades and are never seen again. We want to be a research facility where we can use new theories and re-look at artifacts and potentially rewrite a little bit of history based on new techniques we have as scientists.”
Excavations were done around the annex in 2014, Gaillard said, uncovering secrets such as dug-out pits big enough for one man to crouch in to escape harsh winter weather.
Far from being off-putting, though, the Parker Annex’s history makes it the perfect home for the trust, said Gaillard, who studied journalism at the University of South Carolina and sees similarities between that field and archaeology.
“In journalism, you talk to people in person. You get their stories and you record that history as it’s happening now,” she said. “Archaeologists look back at people who could never speak for themselves or who were misrepresented or not represented at all. We try to add to history. Sometimes we can rewrite history.
“A lot of the people who lived here never had the opportunity to write their own history.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 6 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.