In 1998, a group composed of former employees and other interested persons established the Bemis Historical Society with the intent to bring together those people interested in the history and preservation of Bemis, Tennessee, and to discover and collect any materials which contribute to the history of the town. A 501(C)(3) status was granted to the Bemis Historical Society by the Internal Revenue Service in November of the same year.
Soon after it was incorporated, the Bemis Historical Society had an opportunity to acquire the building and grounds of the Bemis Auditorium. Following negotiations with the former owner, a warranty deed for the property was issued on March 19, 1999. The Bemis Auditorium was built in 1922 as the social and cultural centerpiece of the model industrial town of Bemis, Tennessee. Designed by Andrew Hepburn, who was later retained by John D. Rockefeller as the lead architect for the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg, the Bemis Auditorium was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Bemis Historic District.
Since that time, the Society has worked actively to develop a plan for the restoration and development of the Auditorium that will fulfill the mission stated in the Society’s charter to present the remarkable story of this small mill village as a reflection of the national history of textile manufacturing. In response, the Society retained the services of Hopkins & Associates of Memphis, Tennessee, to assist the organization with an analysis for the restoration of the building and its development for future service as a museum dedicated to the history of Bemis, Tennessee.
Mission Statement: To acquire and make accessible important historical documents and artifacts pertaining to the history of Bemis, Tennessee, a mill town forged in the cotton field by world-renowned entrepreneurs, engineers, and architects.
Strategic Goals and Objectives:
Goal 1 – Establish a research center for documentation of the history of the mill town of Bemis, Tennessee.
- Maintain storage of and access to pertinent magazines, books, and blueprints relevant to the history of Bemis.
- Provide access to historical records related to Bemis, including cemetery records and data on the original workers at the Bemis Cotton Mill and their families.
- Install an Internet-linked computer to allow research through pertinent national and international resources.
Goal 2 – Develop educational activities pertaining to life and work in a mill town.
- Establish permanent educational venues that depict life in the mill town of Bemis, Tennessee, including:
Textile Production: From the Cotton Field to the Factory
Bemis, Tennessee: The Great Socio-Economic Experiment
World-Renowned Bemis Founders
House of Bemis – Unique Architectural Design for Affordable Housing
The World-Wide Impact of Bemis Company
Goal 3 – Provide access to exhibits relative to the history and culture of Bemis, Tennessee.
- Provide access to traveling and rotating displays pertinent to the culture and work of the Bemis mill town
- Establish a theatre for the viewing of historical audio-visual presentations and period films
- Provide demonstrations of period work and cultural activities
Chairman – Joel Jackson
Vice-Chairman – Larry Green
Secretary – Rosalee Gibbons
Treasurer – Warner Turner
- Incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of Tennessee (1998)
- Achieved sales tax-exempt status (1998)
- Obtained “advance ruling” 501(C)3 designation as a non-profit corporation (1998)
- Obtained property tax abatement for the museum (pay no annual property taxes) in 1999
- Purchased the old auditorium/theatre in March 1999 at a cost of $10,000
- Obtained designation for the Bemis Auditorium as an American Treasure by the White House Millennium Project and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in August 2000
- Obtained an Historical Bemis marker from the state, located on Highway 45 South
- Developed a mission statement and strategic goals and objectives for the Bemis Museum
- Held a very successful celebration commemorating Bemis’ 100th anniversary in May 2000 with hundreds of visitors attending the daylong event
- Had over 150 dues-paying members in the Bemis Historical Society in 2001
- Applied for and received $1,000 grants from Coke Consolidated and Procter & Gamble. Received a $5,000 donation from Mr. & Mrs. Garney Scott and $2,000 donation from Richard Jackson
- Applied for and received a $5,000 Community Development Grant from HUD that paid for the preliminary studies by Hopkins & Associates Preservation Consultants
- Hired Hopkins & Associates of Memphis who prepared the following reports:
“A Preliminary Architectural Restoration Evaluation of the Bemis Auditorium” (July 1999)
“A Master Development Plan for the Rehabilitation of the Bemis Auditorium” (December 1999)
“An Organizational Needs Assessment and Conceptual Use Plan for the Bemis Auditorium” (January 2001)Applied for and received an $8,000 grant from the City of Jackson that was used as matching funds for the Tennessee Historical Commission Grant
- Applied for and received a $28,000 grant (60/40 match) from the Tennessee Historical Commission that paid for repair of the cornice gutters and down spouts, electrical rewiring, fire department connections and plumbing, including two functional bathrooms
- Currently have the following grants pending:
$50,000 with Gannett
$41,667 with the Tennessee Historical Commission (60/40 match)
$522,600 with the U. S. Department of Interior’s Save America’s Treasurers (50/50 match)