Hamburg’s story is one of intrigue, triumphs and tragedies.
It’s also one that is seldom told in its entirety. That is, until now.
The Arts & Heritage Center of North Augusta’s exhibit committee, local historians, artists and community members worked about eight months to put together the first extensive exhibit on the history of Hamburg, a town that once existed along the Savannah River in the area near the current Fifth Street bridge and U.S. Highway 1.
“It’s an enormous subject, and it took a lot of research and work for us to get to this point,” said Lauren Virgo, the center’s executive director. “It’s exciting to see it all come together.”
The exhibit, Hamburg: The Forgotten Town, opened Thursday and tells of Hamburg’s history from 1806,when Henry Shultz arrived in Augusta, until now.
“It’s such an important story and it needs to be told,” said Milledge Murray, the chairman of the exhibit committee. “It took a group of people who were passionate about the subject to work together to tell the story. I think it’s important for people to know the story and know that it’s a true story.”
The exhibit features information about Shultz’s steamboats, the first bridge he ever built and its demise, why Shultz founded Hamburg, the businesses of Hamburg, the South Carolina Railroad that ran from Charleston to Hamburg, the decline and rebirth of Hamburg as a freedman town, the floods that affected Hamburg, the Hamburg Massacre and information about Hamburg to present day.
It also includes information about what daily life was like for Hamburg residents and features a children’s area with dolls to color.
The exhibit includes artifacts from personal collections and small-scale replicas of things such as the plank road that ran from Hamburg to Edgefield, generally along what is now known as Highway 25.
Renderings created by local artists also help tell the history of Hamburg.
“So many art forms were used to tell the story,” said Murray. “I think that is one thing so exciting about exhibit projects. You can use so many things to tell history.”
About 150 people attended the reception Thursday, including several descendents of Hamburg residents.
Among the descendents was historian Wayne O’Bryant, who also helped with the exhibit. O’Bryant, a Graniteville resident, has written a book called The Exhumation of Hamburg Incident, expected to be out later this month.
During his research on Hamburg and genealogy research about his own family, he discovered that his great-great grandfather’s brothers—Needham O’Bryant, Jacob O’Bryant and Cornelius O’Bryant —all moved to Hamburg from a plantation in Clarks Hill when slavery ended. Needham was later elected as Hamburg’s warden in 1872.
“It’s amazing the things they did after slavery and how they did it so quickly,” he said of Hamburg’s black residents. “You had state representatives, local officials, principals—I find it really amazing what was accomplished in such a short period.”
Ensuring that they told the story accurately and completely was an important thing to keep in mind as they were doing research, said committee member Andrea Spano, who assisted with research.
“To tell this important story, we knew we had to get all the facts straight,” she said. “There’s so much misinformation out there about Hamburg. We wanted to make sure that the information we shared in the exhibit was accurate.”
They used a variety of sources to gather their information such as personal collections, family histories, speaking with descendents of Hamburg residents, newspaper articles and Internet sources, she said.
The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 24.
The Arts & Heritage Center is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and every first Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students in kindergarten through 12th grades and free for Arts& Heritage Center members and those ages 5 and younger.
Contact the center at (803) 441-4380.