York Culture & Heritage Museums for McCelvey Center
The McCelvey Center is a historic school building located within the National Register Historic District in York, South Carolina. It is owned by York County Government and is one of four sites operated by the Culture & Heritage Museums of York County. The mission of the McCelvey Center is to collect and preserve the cultural heritage of York County and the Carolina Piedmont while providing programs and educational opportunities that reflect the regional history through research, exhibitions, and performing arts. Many of the school’s former classrooms serve as archival and museum collections storage for the Culture & Heritage Museums with the 1920s auditorium providing a venue for performing arts. Each year, the Culture & Heritage Museums runs the successful Southern Sound Series. The series of four concerts typically attract 400-500 people each. Other spaces within the building are used for community meetings, events, and functions.
The first school building located on the site of the McCelvey Center was the Yorkville Female Collegiate Institute, an imposing Greek Revival masonry building completed in 1855. In 1900, the building was destroyed by fire. A new building, known as the Yorkville Graded School, was built on the original stone foundations in 1902 using some of the local, handmade brick from the earlier building. In 1922, the school was expanded, adding several additional wings including the grand 500 seat auditorium with monumental arched windows. The building was designed by two prominent, native South Carolina architects: Hugh Edward White and William Augustus Edwards. White designed the 1902 building and Edwards designed the 1922 additions. The building served as a school until 1987 with many York County residents continuing to share memories of attending school at the McCelvey School, as it was called in its later years.
Culture & Heritage Museums’ Institutional Plan calls for the future development of museum exhibits and educational programs around the history of York County and the Carolina Piedmont in the McCelvey Center. The plan calls for the first floor of the building, in addition to the performing arts auditorium, to contain permanent exhibits focused on the history of York County and the McCelvey School. This expanded use as a regional history museum will benefit the community by providing a central location to preserve and present that rich history of York County at the heart of the county seat. Historic preservation is central to plan for the future uses of the McCelvey Center. The initial preservation work has focused on physical upgrades to the building envelope. In 2011, the building was re-roofed using slate, the historic roofing material. In 2019-2020, all of the historic windows were restored using best practices in historic preservation to retain these character defining features.
Remarkably, the McCelvey Center retains nearly all of its historic, wood sash windows dating to 1902 and 1922. The building has a total of 146 windows in 34 unique window types. Many of the wooden windows are in a tripartite configuration and there are thirteen monumental, arched auditorium windows at over seventeen feet in height. There are also several mid-century steel hopper type windows in a 1956 stair hall addition. The windows had suffered from years of deferred maintenance with many thought to be close to failure. The Culture & Heritage Museums’ historic preservation staff conducted a comprehensive hands-on assessment of the windows and determined that most were structurally sound and repairable, despite their outward appearance of deterioration. Ruling out replacement, the Culture & Heritage Museums decided to preserve the windows as an important character-defining feature of the building in keeping with Culture & Heritage Museums’ mission as a heritage institution and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings.
Shenandoah Restorations, Inc. of Irmo, South Carolina was selected through a competitive bidding process as the contractor to restore the windows. Historic preservation staff from the Culture & Heritage Museums produced the restoration plans and specifications and administered the contract. The project was funded in part by a York County Hospitality Tax grant. Work to restore the windows began in September 2019. Each window sash was removed and restored offsite. Lead paint and old glazing were removed. Original glass was reused wherever possible and any wooden elements that had to be replaced were faithfully reproduced. Traditional linseed oil based glazing putty was used for securing lights in their sash. Every window sash was salvaged, although some required significant repairs by the skilled craftspeople at Shenandoah Restorations, Inc. To improve energy efficiency, weatherstripping was added to the windows. The window repairs also included making the windows operable by removing the many layers of paint and caulk that sealed the windows shut and restoring their original sash weight system.
One of the challenges of this project was working around the Culture & Heritage Museums’ sensitive archival and museum collections that remained in place throughout the entire restoration process. Most of the rooms in the McCelvey Center house historic objects and documents that require a controlled environment for their long-term preservation and cannot be exposed to light or temperature fluctuations. The contractor had to take special precautions to protect these objects during the work and during the period that windows were removed for restoration. The project took one year to complete, an impressive timeline considering the massive scale of the project. Given that most of the windows were double or tripartite windows, over 570 individual window sash were removed, restored, and reinstalled. About 2,350 individual glass lights were removed and reinstalled or replaced. All 146 window frames were also restored and repainted. This project serves as a prime example of how historic wood windows can be restored rather than replaced to preserve the character of a building, and in turn help preserve the character of the historic community around it. The improvement to the exterior appearance of the McCelvey Center has had a great positive impact on the surrounding historic district. As an important component of the phased improvements to the building envelope, this project will have a further positive impact on the community by enabling the future use of McCelvey Center for regional history exhibits and other community uses.