NEW MADRID - State officials informed the public about how their tax dollars are being spent to preserve local history. Monday evening's meeting on the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site also included plans to expand the interpretation of history and continued restoration of the site.
Overall those attending appeared pleased with the efforts by Mike Comer, site administrator, and his staff over the past several years.
"I think you should be commended for all the work you have done," said Margaret Palmer, executive director of the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce, one of several persons attending the meeting.
The removal of the lead-based paint and the repainting of the house, once a sore spot with local residents, is nearly complete. As visitors arrive for Friday and Saturday's Christmas Open House and Candlelight Tours, Comer said, the equipment will be gone.
While the painting will ensure continued preservation of the building's exterior, the site administrator noted it also impacted attendance. Since October 2000, 5,652 persons have visited the house with 654 guided tours conducted. According to Comer this is down from previous years and he suggested visitors may have seen the scaffolding and workers around the house and decided it was closed for repairs.
Special events have proved popular with the annual Easter egg hunt drawing 100 participants this year. "You would be surprised at how fast 100 kids can find 1,000 Easter eggs," said Comer laughing.
In an effort to build on such events, Comer said he and the staff are considering offering more specialized events for small groups. These could include period fashion shows, first person interpretation or even taking a group through several scenarios.
"There is a lot of potential for such activities to be a great educational tool," said Comer. He added he and the staff are visiting schools with artifacts to help children better understand the local history.
One improvement completed at the site which pleased the administrator was the installation of an intrusion and fire alarm system at the house and the site office. Comer said in the past "thrill seekers" had attempted to enter the house and added: "this system was sorely needed."
Other changes included the completion of an interior paint study which allows the staff to better recreate the original paint scheme used by the William Hunter family, construction of an equipment storage area, replacement of security lighting around the house, replacement of a water line and the acquisition of property across from the Hunter-Dawson home, in a continued effort to provide a buffer-free visual zone. With the assistance of student interns and volunteers, work began on an artifact catalog and data gathered on ultraviolet light levels in the house, which have prompted a request by Comer to have ultraviolet reduction material placed on the windows.
While he and his staff are preserving the past, they have big plans for the site's future. Comer said a new brochure will arrive soon offering information for visitors on the house. Also work will continue to develop more first person events, improve training on period clothing and expand the number of rooms interpreted during tours.
During the repainting of the house, workers discovered the front porch had structural problems, which will be repaired next year. Comer said plans for the next year include the expansion of the rose and herb garden, installation of a wheelchair lift to bring the house in compliance with the American Disabilities Act, the demolition of buildings not part of the original 1850s structures and continued landscaping.
"The Hunter-Dawson site is a great place. There is a lot of potential there," concluded Comer. "I appreciate the support of the townspeople. It makes my job easier."