Friday, December 18, 2009

The Museum of the Cape Fear - Fayetteville, NC

The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, NC, is actually three museums in one: a traditional museum with exhibits on the area’s history, the 1897 Poe House, and the ruins of the Fayetteville Arsenal. The museum has a little something for everyone, and we enjoyed our visit in October 2009. The main museum building traces the history of the region, from the early Native American residents, through settlement and industrialization. There is also an area for visiting exhibits, which, during our visit, was hosting a display of Vietnam veteran photography. The exhibits are interesting and well-placed for younger visitors, though some are a little well-worn from being handled by those visitors.

The E.A. Poe house (no relation to the author!) is a real treasure. Beautifully restored to its 1890s splendor, the home perfectly captures the lives of upper-class Fayetteville people of a long-gone era. Many of the items in the home are original to the Poe family, and we were all intrigued by the toys, clothes, hairwork, and other little fragments of everyday life. At the time of our visit, the museum was featuring an excellent display on mourning, with the parlor draped in black, the clocks stopped, and the mirrors covered. All tours are guided, and our docent was patient with the children and extremely knowledgeable. She tailored our tour to the children’s ages, and even allowed them to touch reproduction items. She asked them engaging questions and kept their attention, never getting frustrated with their curiosity. She was wonderful. The tours are frequent, and we were fortunate enough to be the only members of our tour party. This is a good idea for visitors with small children, and it makes life easier for the docent.

Arsenal Park includes the ruins of the Fayetteville Arsenal destroyed by General Sherman in March 1865. A “ghost tower” represents the destroyed structures that once stood here. The park is lovely, with well-placed and informative signage. It is located near the other buildings across a wide, tree-planted bridge spanning the highway. Bumpy ground makes the site a little hard to travel with a stroller or wheelchair, but manageable. Since it’s outdoors, this part of the museum is only a good idea on a day with good weather.

Overall, this is an outstanding museum, particularly as the admission is free and there are frequent special exhibits and programs.

From the Historian’s point of view: Michael was speaking that day, and only got to visit the arsenal site later in the day.

From the Educator’s point of view: The Museum has an excellent array of exhibits to appeal to nearly every age group, and the staff members we met were happy to help with school groups or other groups. The photography exhibit was not terribly interesting for younger visitors, but the museum has different traveling exhibits, so other upcoming ones may be more appropriate for young guests.

From the eight-year-old’s point of view: Nathaniel loved taking pictures in the Poe house, and his was particularly intrigued by the “cutting edge technology” of the gas/electric lights. He also enjoyed using his imagination to picture the original arsenal and visiting the technology exhibits in the main museum.