Discovery Through the Decades: 1940s – 1960s

Discovery Place

To celebrate being chosen as a finalist for the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Services by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we are sharing Discovery Through the Decades – a throwback of how all four Discovery Place museums came to be. Over the next few weeks, we will share photos and stories from different decades, beginning with the 1940s – 1960s. We hope you will share your story on how our Museums have positively affected your life as well! 

Opening of Discovery Place Nature
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Discovery Place Nature (formally known as Charlotte Nature Museum) opened its doors on North Cecil St. in 1946 in a two-story house. First named the Children’s Nature Museum, its mission was to foster and guide the interest of eager “youngsters” in the field of natural science. The Museum maintained healthy relationships with local boy and girl scouts, schools and other organizations and quickly began to grow in popularity. In 1951, a bigger space was needed and a new facility was built on Sterling Road adjacent to Freedom Park, where it still stands today.

Kelly Planetarium
Charlotte Kelly teaches in Discovery Place Nature planetarium
Charlotte’s original planetarium was built in 1964 at Discovery Place Nature. It was known for the shows and classes taught by local astronomer Charlotte Kelly. Throughout her time at Discovery Place Nature, she taught thousands of elementary-aged children and became known as “the star lady” of Charlotte. When Kelly retired in 1969, the planetarium was re-named in her honor. The planetarium wing closed in the 1980 and the space was transformed into The Nature Dome, which housed Grandpa Tree, Charlotte’s talking tree. Earlier this year, the historic planetarium was reopened at Discovery Place Nature with a new state-of-the-art digital planetarium system.

Charlotte’s Bicentennial: Century III
Century III, Charlotte’s Bicentennial exhibition
In 1968, Charlotte-Mecklenburg celebrated its 200th anniversary, and Discovery Place Nature was honored as the host site of Century III, Charlotte’s Bicentennial exhibition. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Diorama of History celebrated Charlotte’s 200-year history while offering a glimpse into the year 2000. For the time, the exhibition brought state-of-the-art technology, presenting Charlotte’s future in “color, dimension and sound,” which allowed the community to celebrate Charlotte’s past, present and future.

In the exhibition, guests could visit a series of 4’ x 6’ x 12’ boxes that contained a screen that projected a series of illustrations and photographs relative to that era’s history. A narrator would then describe each scene shown on the screen. The exhibition was housed in a separate building that was specially constructed to contain it on the grounds of the Museum. Unfortunately, this building burnt down in April 1981 and ruined thousands of Collections that were meant to be moved to the newly built Discovery Place Science.

Discovery Place Nature has a special place in the hearts of thousands of Charlotteans. We’d love to hear your memories in the comments below and tune in each day this week to relive another decade of Discovery Place history!

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