Vaughan-Smitherman: More than a museum

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 25, 2004

The historic Vaughan-Smitherman Museum has been used for a variety of purposes since its construction in 1847. Today, it continues to offer Selmians and residents of Dallas and surrounding counties a multiplicity of uses.

According to Kay Jones, property manager/public buildings facilitator for the City of Selma, a major effort is being made by the city to raise awareness of the building among area citizens, not only as a focus of historical interest &045; representing as it does a slice of Selma for the past 150 years &045; but as an attractive location for many different kinds of functions.

As a museum, Vaughan-Smitherman chronicles successive eras of Selma’s past. The building is named for well-known civic leaders from the last century, Dr. Samuel Watkins Vaughan and his son, Henry White Vaughan. The younger Vaughan’s will established “The (old) Vaughan” hospital in the building in 1911, until it moved to a new location in 1960. It’s also named for Joseph T. Smitherman, who served as mayor from 1964-2000 and whose efforts helped save the building from destruction.

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The building itself over the years has served as a school, a hospital, Dallas County Courthouse and now a museum and multi-use facility.

Today, according to Joyce Smith, one of two assistant museum directors, the building serves many functions. With its spacious and beautifully appointed first floor and manicured lawn and gardens, it offers an ideal place for weddings to be conducted – either inside or out – together with receptions, club and organizational meetings, individual, family and other functions.

And the beauty of it is, the rental fees are quite modest, and the building can be used even during the days and times when the museum is open to the public: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The admission charge to the museum is $3, $2 for 20 or more in a group.

The museum has a regular, while not overwhelmingly large, flow of visitors, the majority of whom are from out of town. Smith said that the museum had 74 visitors October through December of last year, plus 50 “non-paying,” such as members of clubs and organizations using the facility.

During the same period there were 20 events that took place, including weddings, receptions, club meetings, teas and business meetings.

Events, according to Smith, can be catered so long as the caterer, who uses the small non-commercial kitchen in the building, is licensed by the city.

A major event in the spring of each year, during which Vaughan-Smitherman serves as headquarters, is the Historic Selma Pilgrimage Antique Show & Sale.

Smith emphasized two points during her tour of the building, which is undergoing some restoration in an area with water damage from a malfunctioning air conditioner system: Many in Selma and the surrounding area have never visited the museum. Frequently, she observed, people don’t go and see such attractions until they have moved away.

She also noted that Vaughan-Smitherman is not simply a museum. It is a multipurpose building for community use that is being underutilized.

The rules governing the use of the building are not overly restrictive – except for limiting events to the first floor and grounds – nor are the prices excessive.

For complete information on the museum and its availability, call (334) 874-2174.