Senator Aaron Plyer (below) attended meetings with citizens from the Waxhaw area in the latter part of 1979, during which the possibility of establishing a memorial to President Andrew Jackson was discussed, and he presented the idea to Governor James B. Hunt. Subsequently, in early 1980, Governor Hunt created the Andrew Jackson Historic Memorial Committee, a committee formed to assist the Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, in “determining the need for a permanent memorial to honor Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States.” Below is a photo of Governor Hunt when he was in office around 1980. The first meeting of the Committee was held on May 18, 1980, in Waxhaw, with Dr. William S. Price, Jr., Director of the Division of Archives and History in attendance. Original committee members were Charles McGee, Chairman; Sid Hart; Jack Hernig; Gladys Kerr; Wiley Neal; and John Thomas Wilson.
The group toured local historic sites, including property owned by the Waxhaws Historical Festival and Drama Association, the birthplace of Andrew Jackson, the South Carolina Andrew Jackson Park, the Howie Gold Mine, JAARS, and the 1818 Old North Cornerstone, marking the boundary between North Carolina and South Carolina. The need to select a site for the memorial was discussed.
On June 18, 1980, a team from the Historic Sites section of the Division of Archives and History visited several historic attractions in Union County. They recommended that an archaeologist and a researcher be hired and that a one-time allocation be made to hire a theatre consultant for the Drama. State funds were provided for these purposes, and research and archaeology were conducted. The McCamie cabin site was examined, but because of the extensive grading of the site over the years, the disturbed soil yielded little substantive information that could shed light on the way of life of early residents of the region. An area thought to have been the site of the Andrew Jackson homestead was also examined, but the archaeologists may not have been working the correct area.
In the final analysis, for a number of reasons, the decision was made to place the memorial on the property owned by the Waxhaws Historical Festival and Drama Association. The 1982 Andrew Jackson Memorial Research Project Report, written by Christopher Allen of the Division of Archives and History, states that “the recommended site is currently owned by the Waxhaws Historical Festival and Drama Association,” and “that the Association has tentatively agreed to turn the property, encompassing approximately sixteen acres, over to the State for the development of a memorial to Andrew Jackson.” It was originally thought by the people involved that the memorial would be a State of North Carolina facility.
At a meeting of the Andrew Jackson Historic Memorial Committee held on July 9, 1985, Christopher Allen from the Division of Archives and History made a report on progress that had been made in forming the Andrew Jackson Historical Foundation, Inc., which would replace the Andrew Jackson Historic Memorial Committee. Charles McGee served as Chairman of the Memorial Committee and President of the Foundation from April 1980 until November 1997. Sis Dillon was elected President of the Foundation in November 1997, and served until February 1999. Dr. Zane Eargle was elected President of the Foundation in February 1999. At the annual meeting in March 2003, Gary Underwood was elected President of the Foundation.
In 1988, the Andrew Jackson Historical Foundation received a grant from the North Carolina legislature in the amount of $400,000 and a grant from the Union County Board of Commissioners in the amount of $100,000. These funds enabled the Foundation Board to hire local architect John Dickerson to draw plans and Godfrey Construction Company to construct the museum building. Land Design of Charlotte was selected to develop a site plan. Additional land was purchased by the Foundation for the purpose of having an entrance off Highway 75. At the meeting of the Foundation Board on November 16, 1990, President Charles McGee announced that the building had been completed and that the new entrance road was in place.
In May 1989, the Andrew Jackson Historic Foundation and the Waxhaws Historical Festival and Drama Association executed an agreement whereby the Drama Association transferred to the Andrew Jackson Foundation approximately sixteen acres of land, and the Foundation agreed to improve the existing theatre facilities with additions and renovations that, in the aggregate, would total at least $100,000 within sixty months of the date of the agreement.
After the building was completed, no funds were available for the operation of the Museum. John Thomas Wilson, a member of the Board of Directors, volunteered to work at the Museum. He was there daily for a year and available as needed after that time period.
In February 1994, the Foundation received a grant from the North Carolina legislature in the amount of $100,000. This grant enabled the Board to advertise for a Director, and Ralph Ganis was selected from those who applied. Mr. Ganis began working at the Museum on July 1, 1995. In January 1996, another grant was received from the State in the amount of $200,000.
The Museum of the Waxhaws opened on February 14, 1996, on a regular basis, five days a week. Julie Ganis, wife of the Museum Director, established and maintained the Museum Gift Shop on a volunteer basis.
Early in 1997, another grant in the amount of $200,000 was received from the State. Senator Aaron Plyler was a member of the original Memorial Committee and served as a Member of the Board of the Foundation through November 1997. It was primarily through his efforts in securing funding that the Museum was established.
After the agreement between the Drama Association and the Historical Foundation was reached, sixty months passed without the improvements being made to the amphitheatre area, and several extensions were granted by the Drama Association to the Foundation. In 1997, the two organizations reached an agreement whereby a 12.41-acre tract of land would be reconveyed to the Drama Association. At the February 22, 2001, meeting of the Board of Directors, the decision was made to purchase a 1.9-acre tract of land in front of the Museum from the Drama Association.
In July 1997, the Director elected to return to military service. Jason Smith served as Director until August 1998, when he resigned. Dr. Richard Durschlag was employed as Director in August 1998. In 2001, due to state budgetary restrictions, no state funds were available to help with the operation of the Museum, leading to a reduction in the days of operation.
Today the Museum of the Waxhaws is open three days a week to the public with field trips and group visits occurring as scheduled throughout each week. We function as a nonprofit organization that runs on minimal assistance from government entities. The Town of Waxhaw assists us with groundskeeping and some funding, as well as corporate sponsors such as CMC-Union. The Union County’s Art Council, an organization focused on maintaining cultural and artistic awareness in Union County, assists us financially through the grants available to their agency for the purpose of providing cultural and artistic education to the children of Union County. Many of our programs are made possible through grants from the Union County Arts Council and the Grassroots Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, which is a state agency. We appreciate the support from private and public entities and government grants designated to help keep the arts and history alive in our region.