Tuesday, June 25, 2024

WB evicts museum from Bordeaux Cottage after Camp Chris Stone requests space

The Town of Wrightsville Beach notified the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History of the termination of its lease at the Bordeaux Cottage on March 22. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — More than a month before the Town of Wrightsville Beach notified a local history museum of its lease termination from Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage, the owner of a children’s day camp requested space on its premises — much like it had done for the last eight years. 

READ MORE: WB Fire Chief Josh Haraway resignation effective March 28

Camp Chris Stone had been hosting a camp dedicated to providing kids interactive educational experiences on marine life, marshes and wetlands on West Salisbury Street, where the museum is located, since 2015. However, at Wrightsville Beach’s Feb. 8 alderman meeting, camp director Rhesa Stone asked for the town’s assistance after the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History board of directors decided to no longer host the children’s camp.

“I’m trying to secure a place for the summer that will be appropriate,” she said at the meeting. “And the museum site is the optimum site for the camp and has been since 2015. Since the town holds the lease on this building, I am speaking to you for some help on this matter.”

On March 22, town manager Tony Wilson sent a letter to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History notifying the organization its term as a tenant had expired and the museum must vacate the property within seven days — by March 31.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-14 requires seven days notice for evictions on month-to-month leases.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller said the museum’s lease expired in 2021. 

“I don’t recall signing a renewal,” Mayor Darryl Mills said at the meeting.

According to the Town of Wrightsville Beach, which sent out a response Monday, staff became aware of the expired lease prior to meeting with the museum to discuss a “mutually beneficial” lease negotiation; this included “insurance, maintenance, landscaping, sub-tenants and others.”

The town said it did hear back from the museum in writing about a “sub-tenant issue” but nothing regarding its lease renewal.

It’s unclear if the sub-tenant was Camp Stone.

“The lease termination was not to my knowledge to make room for any entity or organization,” Miller told Port City Daily via text Monday. 

However, someone from the museum’s Facebook page posted a response to the news over the weekend and blames the lease termination on Stone’s request to continue its camp on the Bordeaux property.

“We were warned by a board of alderman member that our lease was in jeopardy if we did not cooperate with Camp Chris Stone,” the March 23 post stated. “We have that in writing.”

The museum’s board of directors and executive director did not respond to PCD requests for comment. 

Stone’s family worked with former museum director Madeline Flagler to create a memorial to Stone’s husband, Chris, who passed away in 2014. It was originally slated to be an exhibit in the museum, Stone said at the Feb. 8 meeting. The idea of a children’s camp took shape instead and the program has grown steadily, starting with 24 kids per summer and ballooning to over 100 annually. 

“Chris continually gave back to the community,” Stone told the alderman in February.

PCD reached out to Stone for an interview but did not hear back by press.

She explained at the alderman meeting her husband served on an advisory board for historical preservation and helped the Wrightsville Beach Museum with fundraising and other issues. 

Miller also noted at the meeting he was friends with Stone and currently lives in the house her husband resided in before he passed away.

“I get asked this question all the time, about who had influence in my life and I always say Chris is one of those five people,” Miller said at the meeting. “He was that kind of guy.”

Miller said he reached out to Rhesa Stone when he heard about the camp no longer allowed access to the museum property.

The WB Museum of History sent her a letter on Dec. 13, 2023, in which the board of directors notified Stone of its unanimous decision to conclude its relationship with the children’s camp. Stone told the board of alderman the letter did not contain an explanation of the decision.

In a Feb. 1 Facebook statement, the museum wrote it was happy to help Camp Chris Stone with rent-free space in past years, but had made the decision to encourage the camp to find another host. It claimed insurance and supervision concerns influenced the board of directors’ decision. 

At the alderman meeting, Stone said the camp covered all of its expenses through registrations and left remaining funds with the museum; she said family and friends raised $32,000 to dedicate the Bordeaux Cottage’s downstairs space and a room upstairs for the camp.

Resident Chris Ward spoke in its favor Feb. 8, too, and explained his family made a large donation to the museum and met with the former director about maintaining a room in honor of Stone at the Bordeaux Cottage.

“It was rather shocking to me on December 3 when I heard that this camp was not going to be in the location that was promised,” he said. “And it was in perpetuity.”

Camp counselor Ben Ward stated at the Feb. 8 alderman meeting that the Bordeaux Cottage location was “essential” to the program: “The convenient access to the marsh from our location allows the camp to be safe, efficient and enjoyable for all the campers.”

The museum wrote on Facebook on March 23 that it decided to go in a different direction because: 

“The museum’s mission is to tell the story of the history of Wrightsville Beach. We are not a marine science museum. We, the board have a fiduciary duty to the museum to make sure that the bills are paid and that the mission is advanced.”

Stone established Camp Chris Stone as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in October 2023; the camp states it has its own insurance to cover liability.

Port City Daily reached out to ask to Stone, in light of the museum’s eviction, if its summer location would be in the Bordeaux Cottage but did not receive a response by press. An email that was sent to parents on Feb. 3 stated “details concerning the exact location are underway.” 

“We are so excited and can’t wait to be in the Wrightsville Beach Marsh with our campers and staff!” it concluded.

The Bordeaux Cottage was built in 1924 and was located on 405 N Lumina Ave. before the town moved it in 2018 to the Wrightsville Beach Historic Square on the 300 block of West Salisbury Street. According to New Hanover Property Records, Christopher and Deborah Strickland purchased the Lumina Avenue property for $1,200,000 in 2017, before donating it through Wrightsville Beach’s Historic House Relocation Program. The museum sold the building to the town for $1 on November 26, 2018.

The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History takes up Bordeaux Cottage and the Myers Cottage, located next door at 303 W Salisbury Street. The latter will continue to operate. The museum noted it has invested $300,000 in renovations in Bordeaux in the last few years.

[Ed. note: The article has been updated to clarify the cottage was sold to the town from the museum for $1 in 2018.]

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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