Historical Society $10K closer to reaching $50K challenge

Tourism authority approves Leak-Wall House grant

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Related coverage
* Feb. 5: $50,000 challenge

ROCKINGHAM —The ten members present at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Richmond County Tourism Authority voted to boost a local nonprofit’s drive to meet a fundraising challenge by raising $50,000.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

In the Richmond County Historical Society reaches that figure, an anonymous donor will match that with another $50,000. All of the money is to be used to sustain the Leak-Wall House and garden in the Leak-Wall House Endowment Fund.

The TDA earmarked $10,000, filling 100 percent of Historical Society President Dr. John Stevenson’s request.

“The historic Leak-Wall house, built by John Wall Leak in 1853, was acquired by the Richmond County Historical Society in September of 1995.  The house had been used as a branch bank for the previous 20 years, put on the market when no longer needed.  Raising funds to buy the three acre property was a major undertaking for the Society, however the project was debt-free within three months following the purchase.

John Wall Leak became a major Richmond County farmer and businessman.  His interests included a textile mill chartered in 1833, the fifth cotton mill to be chartered in the state.  After the Civil War, he provided leadership in industrial development which made Richmond County a very wealthy county by the turn of the century.”

Along with the TDA’s $10,000, Stevenson said the remaining $40,000 is expected to be raised through a Cole Foundation grant, society members’ contributions, community donations and other grant possibilities.

As of September 2014, the Richmond County Historical Society managed:

* $63,885.47 in the Richmond County Historical Society Endowment Fund
* $120,759.94 in the RCHS Leak-Wall House Fund
* $363,792.57 in the Walter and Betty Reid Endowment Fund, used for the garden and grounds of the Leak-Wall House

All three funds are managed by the Foundation for the Carolinas in Charlotte.

TDA board member and Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said there’s hardly a brochure about Richmond County that exists that doesn’t include an image of the Leak-Wall House.

Stevenson’s narrative to the TDA:

The Richmond County Historical Society now has a unique opportunity to sustain the Leak Wall House in downtown Rockingham, as well as the garden, with the offer of a matching grant of $50,000, which would be added to the Leak-Wall House Endowment Fund. The Leak-Wall House is important to the legacy and continuity to the survival of downtown Rockingham.

The Leak-Wall House and its family history tie into he city of Rockingha’s Blue Trail because the residents of this house and extended family first made major use of Hitchcock Creek for operating cotton mills.

Now we have yet another tie-in with the new restaurant across from Discovery Place KIDS being named “Hitchcock Place.” Hopefully local photographer Jimmy McDonald’s pictures will contain this of Leak-Wall House, Hitchcock Creek and surrounding Green Way.

The Leak-Wall House property will now look toward emphasizing even more of its connection to this vital tourism and local attraction in Rockingham.

Once the Leak-Wall House Endowment Fund becomes sustaining, the Richmond County Historical Society can begin to look ahead — not that it isn’t already — to expanding its promotion of the property to tie in with other downtown projects to attract tourists and provide activities for local residents as well.

House maintenance

Expenses for the Leak-Wall House need to be average out over several years because there are not annual expenses of any magnitude. When they do occur, such as painting the house, etc., can add a significant amount to the society’s annual budget. The society’s year-end financial report for 2014 is included with this request.

In the past several years with the roof repair work, new plumbing, air conditioning and heating units installed, etc., expenses have been over $30,000. But they are not reoccurring expenses — hopefully.

The Leak-Wall House was preserved with state and local governments, public contributions and foundation money. Therefore the Leak-Wall House and adjacent property is under the “protection” of the Richmond County Historical Society. The investment of these groups needs to be protected.

Like any structure, it requires maintenance. to assure constant upkeep, it needs a stable source of income as would a private residence. With volunteer assistance, much work has been done, but at times professional work needs to be done.

The house is the cornerstone and the anchor for the Wall Garden, which while is maintained with its own endowment fund, cannot stand alone without the house which is the gateway for use of the garden for weddings, etc. It also provides restroom facilities for use of the garden.

Therefore, the society needs to expand its House Maintenance Endowment, with reserve for growth, to be able to meet these needs. The society has had the foresight to have created this endowment, but needs to increase it to a sustaining level for the future.

House value

The Leak_Wall House, while a symbol of past history in Rockingham and Richmond county, is poised to be involved in any present-day tourism plan with Rockingham and Richmond County.

Currently, the house serves as the headquarters of the membership operated (with elected board of directors) Richmond County Historical Society. It is becoming an unofficial heritage center for the society and county which has national appeal through its genealogy work.

It lends itself nicely to day trips into the city and county. At present often there are times when visitors working with the society’s genealogy committee will spend several nights locally to continue their research.

Any visitors to the house are impressed with its preservation and history. It is considered a local “treasure” as the only 19th century house open in Richmond County to the public on a limited basis (appointment, special occasions). It is also at a very visible location in downtown Rockingham.

As society headquarters, the building is somewhat of a museum, telling of the occupants and life in the 1800s. The family history goes back to before the founding of the United States. The house history goes back to 1853. The society continues to seek to make the facility more relevant to today’s changing needs. In a sense the Leak-Wall House represents a bridge between the past and present.

In the meantime, the Wall Garden and yard a the Leak-Wall House complex is a popular place open to the public at any time for a visit and photography. The interior first floor of the house is rented for a free for photographers, amateur or professional, usually for wedding photos. The yard is popular for family photos, especially with children.

With some study, there are ways it can be  made more popular in coordination with events in downtown Rockingham. At times, Civil War re-enactors have set up display son the lawn. Nonprofit organizations use the yard for Easter Egg hunts and such.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kelly Atkins Hinson portrayed Rebecca Cameron for her first story Sunday night at the historic Leak-Wall House in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kelly Atkins Hinson portrayed Rebecca Cameron for her first story Sunday night at the historic Leak-Wall House in Rockingham.

The second floor of the house is society headquarters for genealogy. For nearly six years now the society has created a very large collection of materials for genealogical research. It continues to grow as people become aware of the work. May MacCallum, a volunteer worker, receives email requests (for which fees are charged for the society) on a daily basis from across the United States and one time from Europe.

The reputation of the service is expanding along with the reputation of the society and Richmond County and Rockingham. The society’s genealogy section recently assisted the PBS program “Finding Your Roots” with programs involving two persons seeking their roots here. The house has become a store house for local heritage. Families have donated their collections to the society because of what is going on at the Leak-Wall House.

Submitted photo After a long hike downhill from a bluff on private property, the trio of, left to right, Bill Trout, Pat Franklin and May MacCallum reached the remains of the Sneedsborough Canal parallel to the Great Pee Dee River. Several hours were spent reaching and exploring the extent of the canal.

Submitted photo
After a long hike downhill from a bluff on private property, the trio of, left to right, Bill Trout, Pat Franklin and May MacCallum reached the remains of the Sneedsborough Canal parallel to the Great Pee Dee River. Several hours were spent reaching and exploring the extent of the canal.

The genealogy section continues to lead tours for out-of-town people to their family historical sites, and once for a river tour for research for a book on the Pee Dee River. Such work brings people from out of town to eat and sleep here.

The house is also headquarters where historical programs for the society originate. Material for rotating historical displays at Rockingham City Hall also originate at the house.

Donations of material which hopefully will one day provide the foundation for a local historical museum are also stored or displayed at the house, to a limited degree, limited because of space. Spillover is housed in the Carriage House, which is part of the Leak-Wall House complex.

A lot of volunteer maintenance is done by volunteers which one day will need to be done with hired help.

The society would like to integrate the house and its history more into an educational outreach program. We did recently have students form a summer program at Leak Street Cultural Center to visit. Public school use is restricted by government regulations. With more effort, perhaps private schools and home school advocates could use it more.

Many people sit out front on steps to take advantage of our wireless Internet signal.

Renting

The Wall Garden and Leak-Wall House are rented for private occasion. This provides the society, along with genealogy fees, an income. While rates are low, they are kept so to make the facilities available to anyone in Richmond County regardless of financial status. This is done almost as a public service since the house was originally restored with the help of public money.

Rental use of the house for a variety of occasions has enhanced the reputation of Rockingham and Richmond County as a friendly, welcoming place to visit and hold an event. No tourist wandering the yard when someone is present has ever been denied a tour of the first floor of the house if desired. Southern hospitality is always in effect (even with Yankee tour guides).

A Richmond County Historical Society photo The brick structure at the beginning of the Green Way on Hitchcock Creek, Steele Street, Rockingham, is the last structure remaining from the Pee Dee Mills which operated there.

A Richmond County Historical Society photo
The brick structure at the beginning of the Green Way on Hitchcock Creek, Steele Street, Rockingham, is the last structure remaining from the Pee Dee Mills which operated there.

The house is often used by nonprofit organizations and local government bodies without charge (but not for fundraising or political purposes).

Use of the facility in the future is limited mostly by imagination in keeping with its original design and purpose. Right now an emphasis may be placed on connecting it to Rockingham’s new Blue Trail on Hitchcock Creek, which emphasizes sites along the way which are of textile mills founded and operated by residents of the Leak-Wall House and extended family.

Photographs of the house are always featured in brochures and Internet websites as symbolic of Rockingham and Richmond County. Therefore it is a local icon to be preserved and maintained. The society strives, however, to present it as more than just a pretty picture. The society looks forward as to what role it may play in cooperation with the establishment of a Richmond County Visitors Center.

Photo by Tom MacCallum

Photo by Tom MacCallum

From the headquarters, the society has reached out into the community to add to its appeal to visitors, such as the bronze plaque at Richmond County Airport telling of its history and the 1890 bell recently restored on the 1924 court house lawn.

There is also a bronze plaque at the state record Cedar of Lebanon tree in front of the Leak-Wall House. In recent years, the Bostick Schoolhouse in Ellerbe was restored through the society, not to mention four books produced and on sale by the society promoting Richmond County history. This has generated much community pride in its history. This planning is done at the house which has space for laying out such plans for everyone involved to see and give input.

We are constantly on the lookout for local artifacts which one day could be the seed material for a public museum. The third floor of the Leak-Wall House has ample room for storage of such material.

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Rockingham

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