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Chapel Hill Historical Society to move out of public library in next 12-18 months

The current building of the Chapel Hill Historic Society. Photographed on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

The Chapel Hill Historical Society is looking for a new location for its archives, which are currently housed on the bottom floor of the Chapel Hill Public Library.

The Historical Society moved to the public library from 523 E. Franklin St. in 2015, when the Chapel Hill Town Council sold the building, Susan Brown, director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, said. The Historical Society was previously housed in the basement of the building and was the only remaining tenant, she said.

“We agreed that the Historical Society could have a temporary home for their collections and historical functions at the library,” Brown said.  

Thomas Jepsen, the treasurer of the Chapel Hill Historical Society, said the society has always felt the public library was a logical space to keep the society’s archives, since many libraries have a local history room or department to assist people who want to research local history. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public library continued to develop its community history program by planning for a Community History Lab. The lab shifted to a Community History Office, when program staff realized the need for staff and production space was greater than the need for a public collaborative space.

“Our community history program has grown at the same time that the Historical Society has been in the building,” Brown said.

Jepsen said the Chapel Hill Public Library is looking to expand its Community History Program and has asked the Historical Society to move its archives.

The Historical Society is working with local groups that have office space available, but doesn't have a specific new location in mind yet, Jepsen said.

“We would probably need 500 to 600 square feet of area to relocate our archives, and we are actively looking for that right now,” he said. “And as a nonprofit, our resources are limited, we are totally supported by our membership fees, our donations, and our book sales."

Jepsen said while the society has not been notified of a formal deadline, it has heard it will have to move out of the library sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

He added that the Historical Society has been in touch with the Town Council to ask for support in looking for a new location for the archives.

“We’ve been struggling with that, trying to find a place, because the materials have to be kept in a climate-controlled environment, we can’t just store them somewhere, and they want people to have access to them,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. 

She said although the Town has not found a new location yet, it is in the process of looking for one. 

Hemminger said the Historical Society benefits the community by reminding it and keeping it aware of the town's past. She added that although Chapel Hill is a small town, it has a rich and important history. 

“You have to know where the community came from in order to move forward,” she said. 

Historical Society Vice President Joe Petrizzi said the society has collaborated with the Town, the library, local organizations and individuals who have written books about Chapel Hill.

He said one of the society’s best assets is its ability to collaborate with people in the community who care about Chapel Hill history. 

“(It's) one of the reasons I joined, in hopes that students and former students and those that weren’t born and raised in Chapel Hill come to learn the history of the town that surrounds the campus,” Petrizzi said.


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Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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