WINNSBORO — A labor of love was rewarded last month when Fairfield County Museum director Pelham Lyles received the Betty Skeen Hospitality Employee of the Year.
The award, given by the Olde English District, qualifies Lyles for the state competition for Hospitality Employee of the Year.
Lyles said the pull of heritage-related tourism is one reason she received the honor, but she credited a dedicated team of volunteers who log countless hours at the museum whether they are working for the museum itself or volunteering in its genealogy room that hosts another of group close to Lyle’s heart — the Fairfield County Genealogical Society.
She said she sees heritage tourism as a key cog to marketing this area and promoting economic development.
“We have seen a massive increase in use of the museum’s genealogy department the past two to three years,” she said.
Lyles enjoys helping people see historic sites and often will lead tours around the county.
“People come to see historic tours, historic buildings and our museum, in part because of the work we do with electronic resources to help people learn more about our rich history,” Lyles said.
Lyles said the Fairfield County museum has found a niche thanks to volunteers who see the importance of helping people research their family histories.
Lyles said in recent years it has become more of a working museum. She said she loves when people come by and learn an object donated to the museum comes from a family member.
The museum has been county funded since 1976 but did not become a full-time operation until the late 1990s.
Lyles always had a passion for history, although she studied art and worked for a time as a teacher and children’s book illustrator prior to her post at the museum.
“As a child I was interested in discoveries in the woods, old cemeteries and homes,” she said. “I heard stories about family roots and ties to the area, so there has always been a connection. But being a historian and writer gradually came upon me as time passed.”
Thanks to the work of head volunteer Eddie Killian, Lyles said the museum’s genealogy department continues to strengthen, though she realizes the days that Killian can continue to put in full-time work as a volunteer might be limited. She hopes that with county support, the staff can expand as the museum and its marketing capabilities continue to grow.
Highlights in recent years for Lyles include bringing two traveling Smithsonian exhibits and countless community events to the area.
Under her direction, the museum has partnered with local schools for African American history related research projects and she has worked over the years on oral history projects. She also wrote the preface to author Virginia Schaffer’s book about legendary locals of Fairfield County.
According to representatives of the Old English District, Lyles has championed the cause of historic preservation by writing grants and organizing projects to prevent the demolition of or to restore many historic architectural structures.
Shared space and labor with museum and genealogy staff are things she says sets the Fairfield Museum apart from those in Camden, Chester or Newberry.
“I feel the award’s not really about me,” she said. “I see my role more as the head facilitator but this award is more a recognition of our community and volunteers. It’s been amazing to watch this organization grow and work.”
On Jan. 16 she will work with those volunteers at Christ Central Community Center when Driggers Photography holds an 11 a.m. workshop on the history of photography. The workshop is for the Fairfield County Genealogical Society but is open to the public.
She said she’d love for people to come by and get to know the members, their business and all the museum has to offer.