Historic Collections at Hobcaw Barony

As visitors pull into the entrance of Hobcaw Barony, they’re greeted by the Discovery Center. Researchers, students, and curious guests can explore this small museum before scheduling a tour of the historic property. Many of the exhibits in the Discovery Center feature artifacts from the property’s history, including audio interviews with former residents, two original Caines Brothers wooden duck decoys, Belle Baruch’s riding apparel and a handful of her trophies, and many other objects. The Between the Waters team was curious about the work that goes into preserving Hobcaw Barony’s collection, and was able to get a look at what goes on behind the scenes.

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Exhibits featured at Hobcaw Barony’s Discovery Center.

Besides those on view by the public, many more materials belonging to the Belle W. Baruch Foundation are housed in a climate controlled wing within the Discovery Center, protected against the damaging effects of humidity, dust and mildew. A number of other artifacts, textiles, books, and artworks are located at Hobcaw House. Since the collection is so large and widespread, meticulous records must be kept to prevent any of the objects from being misplaced, lost or stolen, and to ensure that they can be easily located. Hobcaw’s archivist, Richard Camlin, has worked diligently alongside staff and volunteers to inventory each object, and to photograph and enter them all into a searchable records database.

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The Belle W. Baruch Collection available for browsing on Georgetown County Digital Library’s website. Click the image to visit the collection.

Though this database is only accessible to staff, a collection of 850 photographs is available online through the Georgetown County Digital Library. The Belle W. Baruch Collection was the first to be digitized by the GCDL. Since then, more than 1,000 additional photos from the Baruch collection have been catalogued and entered into the Foundation’s database, each with its own unique accession ID. Now staff are researching the photographs and entering individual descriptions. Once this task is completed, these photographs may also be made available online. In the meantime, scanned copies can be obtained by contacting Hobcaw’s archivist.

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A portion of the collection storage area showing paintings, Native American artifacts, and some of Belle and Bernard Baruch’s former possessions.

Photographs make up a small portion of the collection housed in the Discovery Center, which holds artifacts from every era of human history at Hobcaw Barony. There are Native American pottery sherds, projectile points and tools, some as early as 1,000 BC. Equipment from the Donaldson Brothers rice mill is stored at the Discovery Center, as well as bottles, cooking utensils and other relics of daily life from Friendfield Village. There is also a large collection of material from the Baruch family, including Belle’s clothing and guns, personalized playing cards, books, paintings, letters between Belle and her father, cartoons and blueprints.

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Some of Belle’s personal effects, including two of her shot guns, a pair of binoculars and trophy from an equestrian competition.

To ensure the preservation of these items, care must be taken to prevent deterioration from age and exposure to the elements. Paper materials and photographs are stored in acid-free envelopes and kept in filing cabinets. Certain textiles, such as  clothing, are left unfolded, stored on flat surfaces and protected from dust. Older books are stored upright on bookshelves in a cool, dry environment. One constant in the care of these materials is to avoid exposure to light. Too much light can do serious damage to sensitive historic materials, increasing fading and discoloration of paper, photographs, books, textiles, and documents.

The Baruchs had a large collection of art, including a valuable set of Aston Knight paintings. To ensure that proper care was being given their art collection, the Belle W. Baruch Foundation recently consulted the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina. Staff from the Gibbes assessed Hobcaw’s collection to evaluate whether any restoration was needed, and to determine the best methods of preservation. The Baruch Foundation has framed all of the Aston Knight paintings to archival standards, using acid free mats, acid free foamcore backing and UV protective glass. This method of framing protects paintings from light damage, and from developing the rust-colored spots known as foxing.

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One of the paintings from the Baruch Collection, “Belle on Souriant” painted by Alfred Munnings.

As research continues across the property – including  ongoing work by students at Francis Marion University in the basement of Belle Baruch’s Bellefield home – questions regarding storage, preservation and restoration arise. The Francis Marion study has led to the discovery of a collection of Belle’s riding attire, checkbooks, and hundreds of copies of checks and receipts. Belle’s partner, Ella Severin, passed away in 2000 and Bellefield has been uninhabited since it was vacated after her passing in 2003. The Foundation lacked the means to preserve the objects within Bellefield until a grant was secured through the partnership with Francis Marion University. Belle’s clothing, including her riding attire,  has been stored in the basement since her death in 1964. The garments are in poor condition and will require expert cleaning and restoration. Essential to prevent any further deterioration, treatments for textiles and fabrics include hand vacuum cleaning with a low suction HEPA filtered cleaner, wet cleaning, and hand dry cleaning. Restoration entails the replacement of missing material by a specialist using the original techniques of manufacture.

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One of the checkbooks discovered in the basement of Bellefield by Francis Marion students, in poor condition.

Most of the checks and receipts discovered in the Bellefield basement are covered in mold and mildew. Though these documents are currently being catalogued and entered into the system, permanent storage presents a problem, as their condition could compromise other archival materials and artifacts. Should these items be stored in a separate area, and if so, where? Climate controlled storage space is at a premium at Hobcaw Barony. Since these documents are already in poor shape, would it be best to digitize them and preserve the information and dispose of the physical copy? This brings up the question of which is more valuable, the information on the document or the historical significance of the artifact itself – a dilemma many museums and archives face.

These historic objects and archival materials are worth preserving because of the valuable information they hold for students and researchers. While they are not available for study now, there is a possibility that they will be in the future. The Belle W. Baruch Foundation recently expanded it’s mission to include preserve and research the property’s cultural resources, and it is the hope of the Foundation that future funding and research will hasten the availability of its collection to students and researchers.

Cultural Contact: A Columbia College Student’s Experience with “Between the Waters”

By Brynna Gregg, Intern

I have begun to relate history to geology. Just as geologists can drill into the earth and see stratified layers of rock, we can see layers of culture and history imbued in any given place. The American South is filled with these layers of life: from First Nations tribes to European settlers and eventually plantation owners and their slaves to all classes of people, black or white. The tremendous wealth of history here can be overwhelming, but a study of the South’s “geology” can be possible by looking at Hobcaw Barony.

Waccamaw Neck has been home to many people groups throughout history, and they all come together at Hobcaw. Archaeological digs provide information on the Native Americans who came before, Bellefield and the Baruch mansion illustrate the lives of wealthy twentieth- century Northerners, and the vernacular architecture of Friendfield Village shows the much different lives of the African Americans who worked for the Baruchs. As we dig deeper into any aspect of Hobcaw Barony’s past, we can start to see a cross-section of many lives. Of course, no one culture exists in a vacuum, and though the African Americans and Baruchs mostly functioned separately, their interactions provide an interesting glimpse into the attitudes of the time. Trying to make sense of this interplay can give insights into our thoughts and actions today. Educational efforts to explore various perspectives of South Carolina’s past have increased in the past few decades. This is a crucial step towards understanding its present.

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Clambank Landing, Hobcaw Barony, c. 1905

 

While I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest, there wasn’t much emphasis in my education on issues of slavery and African-American history. Though I learned the histories of First Nations people, the lack of any significant African-American community in the Northwest meant their history was shown to be only something that happened ‘way over there in the South.’ This disassociation from the issues of racism (past and present) made me feel safe, especially as I was so far removed from the physical places of their history. But avoiding the difficult questions did not solve anything, and it is this mindset that prohibits any growth or understanding.

When I started going to school in South Carolina, I was struck by the stark racial inequalities that no one else seemed to notice. The general mindset seemed to be “this isjust how it is.” I’ve come to realize that the fault may not lie in the people in themselves but in what they inferred from their education. While schools do teach the history of African Americans—from slavery to Jim Crow to Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter—it’s
almost always from a white perspective and alongside white history. Often, when multicultural history is taught, information is left out. Students from all cultures may be taught a distorted vision of themselves and others, and at the very least may be misinformed about their history. The only way to change this mindset is to introduce and value a new perspective.

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Minnie Kennedy with Students, 1965

 

As an intern for the Between the Waters project, I continue to learn every week. Going ever deeper into the website, I begin to make connections about different people and places and events. It’s a new perspective on the South for me, a way to learn and reflect on things I never understood. There are times when the things I read put my heart in my throat—the Baruch children’s playhouse had running water and could have housed an entire family, while none of the black households ever had plumbing—and the basic knowledge of this inequality remains with me. No longer is it only a historical fact, but I now have Minnie Kennedy choking up while telling me about this playhouse and I can see for myself the difference between her childhood home and the Baruchs’ mansion.

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Belle and Renee Baruch at Dollhouse, c. 1910

Because the users of the website are allowed to explore Hobcaw Barony at their own pace and in their own manner, its effect is deep and powerful. Viewers may focus on the Baruch mansion or the African-American villages, or they may jump between the two. The history of the wealthy white family is here, and the history of its black employees as well. The stories and information are given in a neutral way, allowing the readers to come to their own conclusions about the complex relationship between employer and employee, black and white, wealthy and poor.

The mere fact that viewers can enter through the “front door” or the “back door”—along with the wealth of stories and information about the African-American residents—gives the website a necessary perspective. As we come to see the world of Hobcaw Barony through the eyes of Minnie Kennedy, Joshua Shubrick, and ­­­­Robert McClary, we realize that the history of a place is made by many participants, not just the white ones.