Podcast
9:54 am
Sat August 3, 2013

There And Back: Museums In Gaston County

WFAE's summer day trip series takes a trip to Gaston County, to the Schiele Museum of Natural History and the Gaston County Museum of Art and History.


The Schiele museum opened in 1961 to house a collection of wildlife and minerals donated by Bud and Lily Schiele. Over its 50-year history, the museum has grown from 1,500 square feet to more than 70,000 square feet, all at its original location off Garrison Boulevard in Gastonia. The Schiele’s Executive director Ann Tippitt says while they house a wide variety of items, the museum looks to tie its collections together.

“The common thread," she explains, "is the natural world and humans and our role in it; how we’re affected by the natural world and the impact that we have on it.”

Visitors are greeted by a replica Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton towering over the lobby. Just to its right is the entrance to the museum’s featured exhibit: Mammal Safari, a mix of  live animals, taxidermied specimens, and interactive activities organized by continent. 

The Schiele also has one of the largest Planetariums in North Carolina. Its director Jim Craig presents several different shows, some of his own design. You can take a tour of the solar system with an animated cowboy, or explore the night sky to the music of Star Trek and Gustav Holst’s “the Planets.”

This time of year, you’ll find kids in the museum all day. 9 year old Colin Williams and his younger brother attended one of the Schiele’s summer camps. During my visit the focus was electricity…

They excitedly say, “we got to get shocked by this generator...this electricity generator!” 

Their mom, Brandy Williams, says, "they start the next school year with their teachers saying ‘I didn’t know they knew that,’ because they got it from here.” 

The Schiele also has outdoor exhibits, connected by nature trails, that explore the history of human civilization from the stone age to the 19th century. 

Now off to the Gaston County museum, about 10 minutes north in the town of Dallas. Its collections are housed in a historic building on the town’s main square with a history all its own…

Walking in the front door is like taking a step back in time. From the mid 1800s to about 1930, the museum building was a family run hotel. Today, parts of the space are decorated and furnished as the hotel would’ve been.

Head upstairs, and you’ll find hotel rooms set up as they would’ve been back then. And on the walls of the hallway, you can see original graffiti left behind by hotel guests. Down the hall, there’s an interactive parlor, complete with a working pipe organ.

Like so much of the area, Gaston County’s history is rooted in textiles. The museum has an exhibit that looks at the evolution of the textile industry in the Carolina piedmont, including old machinery and an original Edison electric generator.

WFAE’s summer day-trip series “There and Back” airs Saturday mornings on “Weekend Edition.”If you’ve got an idea for where we should go next, email us at news@wfae.org.