By CHRIS WILSON
Over 30 years ago, Marilyn Epperson was at her bridge club talking with her friends when she first heard that there was a possibility that the old Gilmore Sanitarium in South Amory, the facility that had once served as the region’s only hospital and later as a nursing home, may be torn down.
“I thought to myself, they just can’t tear it down,” Epperson recalled.
Although Epperson has resided in Starkville for several years, she came back to Amory last week to witness something that she once dreamed of. She was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremonies for the expansion and renovation of the Amory Regional Museum.
Epperson said it is a proud day in Amory’s history. “I’ve lived to see it happen. You just never know when you start something if it will continue to exist.”
But the Amory museum not only has continued to exist, but has grown and evolved and is now entering its next phase of growth.
Recalling its inception, Epperson said it took a lot of effort to get a museum in Amory. The sanitarium had remained vacant for five years after being a nursing home from 1961 to 1969.
After hearing that the historic building was to be razed in 1974, Epperson said they talked to Ms. Lucille Rogers, who had retired from teaching and was writing a book about Amory’s history. The ladies talked Rogers into getting involved. Rogers’ initial response to turning the building into a museum was, “Honey, I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole!” Rogers said she wanted instead to write the history of Amory. She had boxes and boxes of photos and other items pertaining to Amory’s early days.
“I told her she needed a museum to display all those photos she had collected so that when she was gone one day, they could be preserved,” Epperson said.
Rogers was soon convinced the museum was a good idea and she became focused on a plan.
Epperson, who served as chairman of the 1976 Amory Bicentennial Committee, said it soon became a Bicentennial project. The Gilmore Foundation, which owned the aging building, gave it to the city of Amory through the Amory Arts Council for the grand sum of $1.
Epperson said they had to raise a lot of money, even through a telethon, and got grants for historic building restoration. After raising $25,000 for the project and with the building in their possession which was valued at another $25,000, Epperson said they received the largest 1976 Bicentennial grant that was available, $50,000.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony last week, Mayor Howard Boozer said it is essential to have a place for a city’s artifacts to be displayed. He cited the importance of showcasing a community’s rich history.
Boozer said it was extraordinary to be embarking on the museum’s next phase of development. “We’re honoring our past at the next level…” he said.
Because the building, which first opened as a hospital in 1916, is on the National Historic Registry, all construction must be approved through the Department of Archives and History. Changes to the building must be in keeping with the building’s style.
The McCarty Co. Construction Group of Tupelo was awarded the contract for the $1.5 million project. Completion date for the work is November of 2007.
To date, parking lot paving and curbing has been completed and the next step is to add pavement to support the passenger coach that will be moved temporarily. A first attempt to move the historic train car was unsuccessful because the ground would not support it.
Museum director Lynn Millender said it is exciting to finally see the project under way. When complete, she said they will work toward getting the museum accredited through the American Association of Museums. This will enable the museum to host many special traveling exhibits. “We’re moving to the next level among museums now,” Millender said. “I”m just so proud of our community and the people who have supported this museum. I’m also very proud of how the city supports it.”
The museum renovation project was funded through several grants, including the Mississippi legislature, the Mississippi Arts Commission (Building for Excellence), the Gilmore Foundation and the Fidelia Club. Other donations from both corporations and individuals have also contributed to the project.
Millender said the museum will remain open to the public during construction. The elevator will be out of service for about a month, however.