House of Flags celebrates renovation of second floor

Published 11:11 pm Sunday, February 9, 2014

The House of Flags Museum gave Timken Foundation representatives a tour of its downstairs flag rooms and renovated upstairs prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony for the project (photo by Kiesa Kay).

The House of Flags Museum gave Timken Foundation representatives a tour of its downstairs flag rooms and renovated upstairs prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony for the project (photo by Kiesa Kay).

The oak floors gleamed and the scent of fresh paint lingered Feb. 6 as the House of Flags celebrated a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony to open its newly renovated upstairs educational facility.

“It means we now will have a place for educational purposes, where schoolchildren can see presentations on the American flag and our history,” said Paul Sutherland, board member for House of Flags.

The Timken Foundation supplied $15,000 for a complete renovation of the upstairs of House of Flags Museum, which used to be a 1950s era town hall and fire department, said Robert Williamson, board treasurer. The museum, located at 33 Gibson Street, Columbus, benefited from cost saving and funding to leverage the Timken Foundation grant. Volunteers completed rewiring, hardwood floor refinishing, window trim and more.

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The Tryon Rotary Club supplied a grant for the library and conference room floor covering and chairs, and a grant from the Ann L. Turner and Geoffrey M. Tennant Foundation supplied the audiovisual system. The museum received the Timken Foundation grant in June 2011 and began work in September 2011, with completion in January 2014. Additional funding came from Duke Energy Foundation, Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Enterprises, and Walmart of Hendersonville.

“We’ve had a lot of donations and a lot of good community support,” said Bob Lair, board member.

The group reminisced about the early days, when the House of Flags first got permission to use the building. The building had been used for storage, and old computers, old voting machines and a washing bay filled the space like a vertical landfill. Volunteers set to work, cleaning, throwing things away, and organizing the space. Williamson showed before and after photos of the work done upstairs.

“It’s been a magnificent job,” said Ted Owens, chairman of the Polk County Commission. “The original plan was to tear it down, but I am so glad they changed that plan. I feel a little sentimental about this building, and it shows what you can do when good people get together full of determination.”

As the work progressed, demolition debris filled seven large dumpsters. A narrow, uneven stairway had to be replaced with a more attractive and safer set of stairs, Williamson said, and 15 years of beehives and honey had to be removed from the second floor. When the work finished, the floor contained a presentation room, conference room and library.

Williamson said a grant request had been submitted for conference tables and stacking chairs, and the museum also hopes to attain a HVAC system.

Joyce Preston and her father, Scott Camp, participated on the original board and remain board members to this day. Preston recalled how the Polk County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post and Auxiliary 9116 started the plans for the museum at Green Creek.

Frank Ortiz, board member, told how George Scofield, World War II veteran, stood with his hand on his heart during the Independence Day parade in Columbus in 2001, watching the flag and feeling great pride. No one else stood that way, and he was aghast. He called veterans together, Ortiz said, and they talked about how to create a place to respect and honor the flag. The House of Flags has become the first museum of its kind in the country, dedicated to the history of the American flag.

“We always defend the American flag because it represents the spirit of America,” Ortiz said. “It may not touch the ground.”

The museum houses several significant flags, including a pennant from the U.S.S. Constitution and flags from several time periods. A special display shows the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima and tells the story of how that flag raising occurred not once, but twice.

In addition to American flags, the museum houses state flags, military flags and flags representing religious freedom. In one corner, a simple stick with a red cap leans on the wall beneath flags that depict that symbol. Ortiz called it a liberty cap. He explained that in past times, when a slave earned freedom, he or she would get a red cap. When people gathered to talk about their liberty, they’d carry red caps on sticks to show where the meetings would occur, he said. Now, many flags depict that special symbol of freedom, including flags of Virginia, Idaho, New Jersey, the U.S. Senate and the Army.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have a facility now where we can offer education to children,” Preston said. “Learning about flags can be a way to learn our country’s history.”