The U.S. Bicentennial reawakened pride in America's collective past. To promote an understanding of that heritage, two community leaders, Jeanne Rauch and Lucy Penegar, along with other members of the county's Bicentennial Commission, requested $5,000 in seed money and assistance in the form of manpower/personnel from the Gaston County Commissioners. This was soon supplemented with additional financial support from the town of Dallas, North Carolina Bicentennial Commission, Gastonia Junior Service League, Jeanne G. Rauch and the Ralph S. Robinson Family Foundation.
On October 15, 1975, the Gaston County Art & History Museum was formed as a cultural project of the Gaston County Bicentennial Commission.
On March 23, 1976, Gaston County Art & History Museum received its tax-exempt status and became a legal entity supported by Gaston County and governed by an independent board of trustees. The Gaston County Museum is a place of discovery, inspiration and learning. Through its exhibitions and programs for adults, families and schools, GCM stimulates the imagination and advances understanding of history and art.
On July 4, 1976, Gaston County Art & History Museum opened its doors to the public on the second floor of the Dallas courthouse location initially administered by a volunteer staff of dedicated men and women from throughout the county. Gaston County hired Alan D. Waufle as the first museum director in late 1976.
Early in 1977 Dallas' original turn of the century Carolina and Northwestern Railroad depot, which was slated to be destroyed, was given to the museum and moved to a vacant lot beside the Dallas library. It became the museum’s Learning Station, then the Exhibit Design Shop, and is now currently the Anne Biggers Furr Learning Station. Not long after the depot was donated, the Southern Railway gave a railroad caboose which provided much needed museum space, and it was relocated beside the restored depot.
Because of the limited exhibit space and restrictive access, the trustees began looking for an alternative to the old courthouse site in 1977-1978.
Daniel Hoffman built the Hoffman Hotel in 1852 at 131 West Main Street in Dallas across from the courthouse, shortly after the founding of the county. With 44 rooms, it was the largest and best known of several hotels where pioneer politicians, lawyers, judges, businessmen and farmers stayed while attending county court. Trustees Lucy Penegar, Robert Ragan and Dr. Simeon Adams initiated talks with Mrs. Kathryn Shuford McKeithen, who owned the building.
On April 22, 1979, Dallas native Dr. William C. Friday, president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina, kicked off the first membership drive from the steps of the old courthouse.
Museum Board President Robert Ragan visited with textile executives Daniel J. Stowe and J. Harold Lineberger of Belmont, and Caldwell Ragan of Gastonia in October and November of 1979 to secure support for a permanent museum home.
Realization of a permanent home for the museum occurred December 28, 1979. A ceremony was held on the steps of the Hoffman Hotel in Dallas at 1:30 p.m., Monday December 31, 1979, for the purpose of dedicating the new museum property.
On August 12, 1982, the museum’s official name was changed by charter amendment from Gaston County Art & History Museum, Inc. to Gaston County Museum of Art & History, Inc.
On May 26, 1984, the first floor of the Hoffman Hotel and adjoining store building were opened to the public.
In 1980, Daniel J. Stowe, a Belmont textile executive, located a group of magnificently restored horse-drawn vehicles that belonged to a local collector. He purchased twelve sleighs and carriages and donated them to the museum for its first permanent collection. A carriage gallery opened in the store building annex as the Wheels and Runners exhibit in 1984. The Stowe Carriage House opened on October 3, 1991, after a formal dedication ceremony.
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