BERLIN– Two new exhibits will greet visitors to the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum this summer.
The Taylor House kicked off the 2022 season this month with a new Briddletown exhibit as well as an expanded display recognizing the Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley.
“We’re telling an inclusive history of Berlin,” said Melissa Reid, president of the museum. “Berlin has amazing stories from all of its neighborhoods and we’re pleased the museum is able to share that.”
The museum, which opened for the season this month, welcomed members of both the Briddell and Tindley families during a special event showcasing the new exhibits last weekend. Museum volunteers have spent much of the last year working on the displays, which are both upstairs.
While the museum had a Tindley exhibit before, thanks to help from the community this past year Reid said it has now tripled in size. It tells the story of Tindley, known as the founding father of gospel music, and his early years in Berlin. Reid said the display, which is includes an audio visual element, is the result of a true group effort. Police Chief Arnold Downing provided some primary source documents for the exhibit. Berlin musician Bryan Russo recorded Tindley’s descendants singing songs he wrote, resident Gregory Purnell read some of his sermons and Berlin artist Patrick Henry provided a fitting backdrop to create a multifaceted portrayal of Tindley for museum visitors.
“It was a collaborative community exhibit,” Reid said.
Purnell said he was proud to be able to read portions of Tindley’s sermons. He believes the exhibit will give museum visitors insight into the gospel legend.
“I think it will give the town and all of the people an opportunity to understand how this man who came from such meager means was able to reach the epitome of his craft,” Purnell said.
Tindley wrote a variety of gospel songs, including “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which is credited as the basis for the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
“He made the lyrics for some of the greatest hymns still being sung,” Purnell said.
He’s happy to see the town recognizing its native son.
“I applaud the museum for their undertaking…,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing for history to have him back home.”
Bonita Tindley, whose grandfather was Tindley’s brother, was thrilled to experience the display when she visited Saturday.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I felt something down in my soul.”
She said the exhibit was a far cry from the minimal information on Tindley that was in the museum previously. She’s excited that the exhibit has been expanded just as the Beach to Bay Heritage Area is also preparing to honor Tindley with a mural on the Bruder Hill building in Berlin.
“I am so supportive of what the town is doing,” she said.
Reid noted that a QR code that was being incorporated into the mural would provide viewers with a link to the Taylor House website and more information about Tindley. She’s excited to see the town’s stories shared beyond the museum’s walls.
“These stories belong to everybody and we’re trying to get them in as many locations as possible,” she said.
The other new display showcased Saturday highlights Briddletown. The historic community, established in 1866, was located near Flower Street. The exhibit features photos of some of the early Briddletown residents, including George and Martha Briddell, as well as more recent residents like Joseph “Pop Joe” Purnell, a Briddell descendent who participated in the Berlin Memorial Day Parade for more than 60 years. The exhibit also includes information on recent efforts to recognize the historic community with a sign in 2018 and historic lane markers in 2021.
Berlin Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols, a member of the Briddell family, was among those who visited the exhibit Saturday.
“To see that the Briddell family has been a part of the Berlin community since 1866, even before the town was officially incorporated, is phenomenal,” she said. “I appreciate that the museum was able to include such a rich history. If it hadn’t been for that exhibit many people in Berlin may not even know about Briddletown and the contribution the Briddell family has made to the town of Berlin, which includes the original Memorial Day Parade that takes place even still to this day.”
She said it was exciting to see the museum’s new exhibits recognizing some of the town’s African American heritage.
“It warms my heart to see how inclusive Berlin has become and more so over the years,” she said.
Reid said the two new exhibits continue the museum’s trend of using information and items provided by the community for its décor and displays. She said area residents and descendants of Tindley and the Briddell family also helped narrow down what information should be included in the new displays.
“It was the community itself that helped us decide what information should be presented and how it should be presented,” Reid said.
For the 2022 season, the Taylor House will be open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum, which is the carefully restored federal style house built for Isaac Covington in 1832 and eventually occupied by Calvin B. Taylor, is primarily furnished as a house museum but also includes a wing of local memorabilia. In addition to providing visitors with a glimpse of Berlin’s past, the museum also hosts a variety of community events throughout the year. The 2022 calendar includes live music June 12, July 10, August 14 and Sept. 11. Storytelling on the lawn is set for 10 a.m. on the mornings of June 23, July 21 and Aug. 18.
The museum’s most well known annual event, the Berlin Peach Festival, returns Aug. 6. The museum will also bring back two events that were new in 2021, its book festival in September and Homecoming Harvest in October.
“We’re very excited to reopen for another season with some great events planned including Sundays on the Lawn, Homecoming Harvest and of course, the Peach Festival,” said Councilman Jack Orris, a member of the Taylor House Museum’s board. “But these two new exhibits are really amazing—I encourage everyone to check out the Tindley and Briddell exhibits. Not only did the museum folks work on these, but members of our community with the historical knowledge and experience dove in to help make sure the exhibits are accurate.”