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Grantee Spotlight: A Q+A with Caldwell Heritage Museum

Grantee Spotlight: A Q+A with Caldwell Heritage Museum


Caldwell Heritage Museum is located in Lenoir, North Carolina atop a hill in an ornate brick building with white columns, arched windows, and a pediment. But to Director Cindy Hendrik Day, less is more.


The purpose of Caldwell Heritage Museum is to preserve the history of Caldwell County, to tell the stories of its present residents, and look to what is possible in the future. Visitors can explore the museum’s special exhibits that focus on music, tools, women’s fashion, military, schools, Davenport College, and more. The museum is located in an old building of Davenport College, a school for women that started in about 1857/1858 in Lenoir. After the Civil War the school reopened but then closed in 1933 due to the Great Depression. Years later, and after many of its buildings had been used for multiple purposes, a group of passionate people asked about acquiring this particular building for a museum. Caldwell Heritage Museum opened to the public in the early 1990’s.


Recognizing that North Carolina’s cultural sector needed assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina Humanities granted a total of $636,767 to 60 North Carolina cultural organizations though its NC CARES: Humanities Relief Grant program in late 2020.* A year later North Carolina Humanities granted another $1.2 million to 90 organizations through its American Rescue Plan Humanities Grants.*


Caldwell Heritage Museum received a total of $27,585 in grant funding through these grant initiatives. With it, they were able to stay operational and support their staff through the pandemic. We connected with Cindy Hendrik Day to learn about why keeping Caldwell Heritage Museum operational is essential to the community and what makes Caldwell County a great place to live and visit.



How did you get involved with Caldwell Heritage Museum?

Cindy: I was a school counselor in Caldwell County for 30 years who started as a volunteer here at the museum and eventually became the director in 2017. I’m from Caldwell County, but I grew up just close to the Wilkes County line. My ancestors are from there, a lot of them, but not all. I grew up in Caldwell, went to school here, and like a lot of people in that middle school/high school/early college phase said, “Goodbye! I’m going to go live somewhere else.” But no, I came back home because it is a good place to live. I love living here. We’re close to the mountains; we can be in Raleigh or Columbia in three hours; we have Asheville close by; and we’ve got the Parkway. When I hear someone at the museum ask about things to do I say, “Let’s talk before you leave,” and I pull out my list. Caldwell Heritage Museum works with the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce frequently and pre-COVID they and Explore Caldwell developed a things to do in Caldwell County bucket list. We made the list.


What did grant funding from North Carolina Humanities allow Caldwell Heritage Museum to do?

Cindy: We could not have made it through the COVID-19 pandemic without North Carolina Humanities grant funding. We would not have been able to stay open.


The grant funding from North Carolina Humanities helped us pay bills. We were also able to purchase some technology and bring speakers to the museum virtually over Zoom and later, in-person. One of the presentations was on 18th century medicine by historical interpreters that dressed in period dress. I came across the pair because they happened to be visiting the museum pre-COVID. I’m going to try and have them back later this year.


I appreciated the opportunity to apply for these grants and to receive them. We are humbled that North Carolina Humanities saw the good we are doing. We feel like our role is to help people get to know the community and to appreciate where they live. We’re one of the best kept secrets in Caldwell County.


Why is Caldwell Heritage Museum important for the community?

Cindy: I firmly believe you’ve got to know about where you live. It helps you understand the people in the community and why they do or don’t do things. If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where you’re going or where you are? There’s a lot of culture here.


I realized that while we want people to come to our building, we have to meet the people where they are too. Being a former counselor, I see how the museum could be utilized in Caldwell County schools. I had a pre-K teacher once say, “We want to bring our kids to the museum, but will it work?’ And I said, ‘We will make it work!” If people can’t come here, we’re willing to go to them. I still have my bus license so who knows what’s possible!


What is one thing you’re proud the museum was able to accomplish during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Cindy: Our intern Sarah was here in the summer of 2020. I wanted our whole music room redone, so she went in and scaled it back so now when you go into the exhibit you can see more, and it doesn’t feel cluttered or overwhelming. When you’ve got room to walk around, it just feels better. Less is more. Same thing in the military room. Another summer intern, Braxton, worked in our storeroom. We pulled everything out and went through it and found military uniforms, covers, jackets, pants, coats, you name it. We have over 100 uniform pieces. Braxton then helped pick and select what was on display, that way we could rotate items in and out every few months so there is always something new to see.


How can people support Caldwell Heritage Museum?

People can volunteer or donate! Donations can be sent to: Caldwell Heritage Museum, 112 Vaiden Street, Lenoir, NC 28645.



*NC CARES: Humanities Relief Grant funding and American Rescue Plan Humanities Grant funding was provided to North Carolina Humanities by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021.


About North Carolina Humanities’ Grantee Spotlights: In celebration of our 50th anniversary, North Carlolina Humanities Grantee Spotlights shine a light on the incredible work of our grantee partners, offering details about their funded project, and feature a Q&A with a team member associated with the organization.


Photo Credits: Caldwell Heritage Museum