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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Newport Museum Opens in City's Former African-American Southgate Street School

Southgate Street School Building.

The former Southgate Street School in Newport (behind the Hofbrauhaus) was the only African-American school in Campbell County but is now the new home for the Newport History Museum at the Southgate Street School.  An African-American chapter of the Masonic Lodge owns the building and continues to meet on the second floor.

The first floor is being transformed into the museum. And it has a lot of fascinating history to tell. Scott Clark, the Newport Historic Preservation Officer, will serve as the museum’s Executive Director and guide it through its development.

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Clark says that the purpose of the museum is to highlight “the diverse nature of all of Newport history, but because this building was built and operated an an African-American school and operated by an African-American Masonic Lodge, we consider this to be one of our greatest architectural artifacts. We want to highlight race relations, sin city days, and the historic preservation in the area. We are excited about the prospect.” The lodge still meets upstairs and will retain ownership of the building.

For some time the city has been looking for a building for its museum and everything just fell into place for this building to regain its prominence. The exterior facade will be restored and repainted as part of the agreement with the developers of the Fourth Street School site. The first room in the Southgate School was the original space for the classroom and served two grades. Another room served two other grades. Those are being developed for exhibits.

Graduate students from the public history program at NKU took on the project and designed the initial exhibits. The most striking is a hologram video.  Caroline Winstel worked on the hologram project with technical guidance from Dave Killen and a student from the School of Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati to produce an interpretation of what it would be like to be a student in the 6th grade at the Southgate Street School. It is one of the first exhibits that you will see in the museum. The video’s host “acts like a docent,” says graduate student Caroline Winstel, “for the school and the city.” Clark says, “You’ll get goosebumps from what she says. She transports you to the classrooms.” 

Some of the graduate students pose with Dr. Brian Hackett. 
Other NKU programs - business and public relations -  have taken on the project to provide service and learning opportunities for their departments. “It’s a wonderful collaboration with NKU,” Clark says.

The back room of the museum will be a public meeting space that will hold about twenty or so around one large conference table donated by the Carnegie Center of Newport.

Professor Brian Hackett supervised the Public History students as they researched and developed all of the exhibitions.  Caitlyn Dirksen, grad student from Franklin, Tennessee says, “It was cool to learn the vast history of Newport.” To underscore the degree of student involvement, Caroline Winstel says that, “We were involved in writing the collections policy and grants.” 

One of the highlights for Scott Clark is “To me, it’s the aspect of the building as a witness and testament to history and change.” To commemorate the event Rolf Monuments created a new cornerstone.

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The museum is “still in the building stage. We want people to see what is here and the potential. We will be on the East Row Christmas Tour,” Clark says.

Clark says, “A building is just brick and stone but it’s people who bring life to the buildings.” And that is what the museum is about. Stop by.See what life was like then.  It’s the only building on the cobblestone lane behind Hofbrauhaus on Southgate Street.

Admission is free and open most days.

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