WRITTEN BY DAVID HAMRICK
GA: How did all this begin?
Allen: I tell people God designed this profession just for me. He blessed me with the talents and skills to run the museum and restore the pictures back to life. I was a Chevrolet Parts Manager in Wilmington, NC and General Motors and a Chevrolet dealership in Gastonia, NC hired me and I worked for the dealer 26 years until he passed away. Little did I know God was preparing me for the future by learning inventory systems, cataloging, management and people skills which have helped in the museum.
GA: You have quite a varied collection, not only cities in Gaston County, but the United States.
Allen: People know that I am preserving history and people in Gaston, Mecklenburg and surrounding counties are bringing me pictures and other historical items but this is also happening from other cities in the United States. This has happen because of the website for the museum (the website has been a blessing for the museum) and word of mouth. There have been as many as 1,200 visitors on the website at one time and over 5,000 visitors in a day. I have people from all over the United States and the world visiting the museum. I also bring a lot of tourist to Gaston County, after they finished their visit they ask for other sites to see & a list of the restaurants to eat at. The collection is over 17,000 and growing. I also have thousands of pictures stored up to be restored. We also recently received thousands of sports pictures, programs and sports books of many of the professional and college teams in the United States. These baseball, basketball & football pictures could become one of the largest sports collections anywhere.
GA: So you have a background in photography, but your passion seems to be in old photos.
Allen: I do have a lot of experience in photography but when I restore an old photo & bring it back to life I feel like that I have preserved a piece of history for mankind.
GA: What is the most unusual or rarest photo you have?
Allen: Restoring over 17,000 photos that have at least 3 to 5 hours of restoration on each photo; however, many of these photos have 10, 20 or even 50 hours of restoration time on them so you became attached to them like children as well as learn the history of the photo. Most every photo is rare and don’t even exist anywhere else. I have many favorites as well as rare and I don’t think I could choose the most unusual or rarest photo out of this collection. Each week people bring me more rare photos that amaze me. For example, Jim Dixon went around NC and SC and showed movies to all the mill villages & took pictures in 1953. These pictures included Firestone, Stowe Park, Aberfoyle Mill Village, Baltimore in Cramerton, Smyre Mill Village and the list goes on & on. His son Irl Dixon came walking in one day and donated the whole collection to the museum. I got so excited like a kid at Christmas. This happens so often and that is why it is so difficult to choose an unusual or rare photo.
GA: Who are your customers – who buys from you?
Allen: I don’t do this for money but when I sell a photo it helps with the lease, website and supplies. I could actually close the museum and make money but I do it for the joy of people. People come in the museum and scream, cry and even jump up and down. The first time it ever happened I thought a lady was having a heart attack but she had found one of her relatives in a photo. Visitors get excited when they find photos where they went to school, work, church, movies, drive-ins and restaurants from the past. Customers are banks, retail shops, restaurants, shopping centers, medical and dental offices and people even decorate their homes with photos. The sizes of the photos are as small as 8 ½ inches x 11 inches and even up to 4 feet x 8 feet.
GA: Any new projects that you are excited about?
Allen: I have come into a large selection of Gastonia, Belmont and Charlotte photos that I am eager to get started on. I am excited about working on a possible larger building site for the museum that might be coming open in the near future. I have so many displays that I can’t exhibit them for the museum has outgrown the present location three years ago. Every day is always exciting at the museum for I meet so many wonderful people that visit here. I tell the visitors about the history of the surrounding area but I also learn history from them too. God truly blesses the curator and the visitors.
For More Information:
Millican Pictorial History Museum
35 E Catawba Street • Belmont, NC 28012
704-825-5391 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday – Saturday
10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.