NEW HOME: Veterans museum moving to old event center

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J.R. Tidwell, The News Courier, Athens, Ala.
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Apr. 8—A draft notice from 1917 warns if the railroad worker it is addressed to does not report for service by a certain date, he will be inducted into the United States Army anyway and be tried for treason. That is Director Sandy Thompson's favorite artifact in the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives collection in downtown Athens.

The museum is in the process of moving across the parking lot from its former location to the old event center at 114 W. Pryor St. Back in October, the Limestone County Commission gave the building to the museum, which will still operate about half the venue as an event center.

"It's going great," Thompson said of the move. "We started out really slow and thought, 'Man, this is going to take a lot,' but then the next thing you know, it's like all the stuff is here. Everything is coming together quicker than we thought."

The museum is now two weeks into the moving process. Thompson said she wants to have the transfer completed by May 28, when the museum hopes to have a grand-opening ribbon cutting.

"We have been working on this move for 10 years now," said board member Ewell Smith. "Starting out, we were going to build an extension off the existing museum. We wanted this building, and it finally worked out where we got it."

Smith said they plan to operate the event center on one side, with seating for up to 300 for a dinner event or nearly 500 for a demonstration.

The other half will be the museum, which Smith said has thousands of items relating to U.S. military history. Thompson said the artifacts range from the American Revolution to the modern day.

She said once it's completed, the new museum will house a virtual reality room with two VR headsets, a new library featuring thousands of military books that visitors can check out, a small meeting room and the event center.

Thompson said the veterans museum will hopefully have a chance to begin holding celebrations and memorials once again. Ewell said he grew up in Athens, and he personally knew many of the county's residents who served in conflicts like World War II and Korea.

"We are honoring those who served," he said. "It's an honor to honor them. We are the state's veterans museum."

Thompson said the museum helps show "freedom isn't free" and highlights what military service members have done in sacrifice for others.

The museum will be upgrading the event center, including the lighting and sound systems, as well as the stage "as money comes in," Ewell said. Thompson said the veterans museum is always trying to raise funds for projects.