The Orange County Historical Museum opened in 1957, but it was first conceived of five years earlier, during the county’s 200th anniversary celebration in 1952 (the county was founded in 1752, and named for William V, Prince of Orange).
Locals created a rich display of costumes, heirlooms and artifacts for the bicentennial. This inspired the Hillsborough Garden Club to create a more permanent home for these items to further their mission: promote civic improvement, foster civil pride, and to create an awareness and appreciation of the beauty and charm of the town.
The museum’s first location was the second floor courtroom of the Old Orange County Courthouse, a Greek revival built in 1844 (this building still stands, and is used exclusively for judicial business today). A replica colonial kitchen, large murals by artist Kenneth Whitsett, and dozens of donated items set the stage for the OCHM’s first exhibit.
That collection has grown over the past 60 years to include hundreds of items. They tell the story of Orange County through furniture, personal items, clothing, military relics, kitchen and other domestic items, including the only complete Colonial-era set of weights and measures in the United States.
The museum was moved in 1982 to 201 N. Churton Street in Hillsborough. The building was originally constructed as a Confederate memorial library in 1934, and is also the location where the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1788 was held to ratify the United States Constitution.
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 11-4 and Sundays from 1-4, the museum houses both a permanent collection and rotating exhibits throughout the year. Current rotating exhibits include “Memories and War: Stereographs of WWI” and “Click, Clack, Typewriters, and Authors.”
Visitors to the permanent collection can view images and read the stories of notable figures from Orange County’s history, from the Colonial, Revolutionary, Antebellum, Civil War and Industrial periods. Visits to the OCHM are free, and 3-hour parking is available in the town parking lot in the 100 block of Churton Street or the Eno River parking garage.