Historic Clinton museum closed, but director volunteers to give tours

By Zoe Tillman
The Gazette
Thursday, June 10, 2010

When the historic Poplar Hill on His Lordship's Kindness museum in Clinton closed Sept. 30 due to a funding shortage, museum director and longtime historian Bianca Floyd found herself out of a job.

Eight months later, Floyd is still looking for work but has volunteered to reopen the museum for tours several Sundays a month through the summer to make sure the 18th-century property and its history remain in the public eye.

"I don't mind [volunteering]. I loved my job," Floyd said.

Although museum President John Walton said in September that he hoped to raise the $100,000 needed to continue operating within six months to a year, he is now less optimistic.

"Fundraising has not gone well at all," he said, adding that many philanthropists the museum has historically relied on for support have said they cannot give until the economy improves. "It's disappointing."

The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and opened to the public as a museum in 1991. The museum chronicles the history of its inhabitants, which included aristocratic families and the slaves they owned. The sprawling property includes the preserved main house, slave quarters and former plantation grounds.

In the eighteen months before the museum closed, the nonprofit John M. and Sara R. Walton Foundation, which owns the museum, had a 40 percent drop in its financial portfolio. John Walton said the foundation estimates it will need at least $500,000 to restore its 2007 endowment level.

The foundation's board is holding meetings to create the museum's first strategic plan, which it hopes to finalize by the end of the summer, he said. Although the board is still hammering out the details of the plan, it will include strategies for raising money and managing the site, he said.

Floyd said many of the museum's former visitors have expressed their support but say they are unable to help financially.

"Everybody is concerned, but the economy is front and center," she said.

In addition to donations, the nonprofit takes in more than half of its income from renting horse stalls and a tenant house on the property, assets Walton plans to continue to push.

The museum held a final open house Sept. 19 and then suspended tours. Floyd began her summer tours Sunday.

Floyd said she is volunteering this summer to organize a lecture series at the site and present a play she wrote on the history of several slaves who were brought to His Lordship's Kindness during the Colonial era.

"The history that occurred at Poplar Hill is like a microcosm of the history of the county," Floyd said. "The story will never be told if it doesn't remain in the public eye."

Poplar Hill on His Lordship's Kindness will be open for tours on the following Sundays: June 13, July 11, July 18, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8. The hourlong tours will start on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and $3 for students 18 and under. Reservations are not required. Visit the museum's Web site at www.poplarhillonhlk.com.

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