Roundhouse museum plans April opening

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Construction is nearly complete on the addition at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum, but it likely won’t open to the public until sometime in April as volunteers work to lay out the expanded exhibits.

“We’re still targeting April for an opening,” said Ken Jones, the museum board member in charge of museum construction. “Hopefully construction will be done by March 1, and we’ll begin to move all the artifacts into the building. It’ll take about a month to get all that organized.”

In July, Hill Building Contractors got to work constructing the 2,000-square-foot expansion, and crews are putting the finishing touches on it. Jones said construction went slower than planned because of weather delays, but overall the timeline and the building have gone according to plans. The inside of the expansion will be complete soon, and the focus will then shift to the landscaping.

Executive Director Bill Myers said it is amazing to see the project come to fruition.

“It is like a dream come true,” Myers said. “This was something we visualized some years back. We had the vision, but not the funds, so we worked real hard to get the funding together, and now to see it happen is just gratifying.”

Myers didn’t move to Wilson until two years after Freeman died, but he has been the biggest proponent of sharing the legacy left by the mason.

“He was a citizen who was concerned about housing after World War II and where to put the black GIs coming back from war,” he said. “When people work to better their community and have pride in it, it makes for a better all-around community.

“He has a legacy that speaks to that spirit, and the roundhouse is part of honoring that legacy.”

It is fitting that the museum has been a community-driven effort from the beginning, organizers said, with private donors contributing the bulk of the funds to get it going and to pay for the expansion.

“I appreciate what the community has done to help us,” Jones said. “This is the way a community ought to be, and this museum allows us to show some local history that might not have been properly represented in the past.”

Myers said the need is ever present, though. The museum is trying to raise funds for a covered walkway between the roundhouse museum and the addition as well as covering the estimated $20,000 annual operating costs.

“We want to make this a first-class tourist spot,” he said. “Thousands of people travel Interstate 95 every day, so let’s pull them in to see the Whirligig Park, the Rose Garden and the Freeman Roundhouse. That is our dream and to see it happening in my lifetime is wonderful.”

To learn more about the Freeman museum, visit www.theroundhousemuseum.com/.