The mission of Orange County Historical Museum is to enlighten and engage our community and visitors from around the world by preserving and interpreting the history of Hillsborough and Orange County.
The Orange County Historical Museum offers permanent and special exhibits all year round. Permanent exhibits explore the development and history of Hillsborough in a chronological fashion, beginning with early Native American settlements, progressing through the 1950s. Special exhibits explore a variety of topics relevant to Orange County history and are displayed in the first and second-floor galleries.
In 1952, the residents of Orange County celebrated the 200th anniversary of the County at its seat in Hillsborough. People in Hillsborough displayed family heirlooms and sewed old-fashioned costumes for the celebration, which peaked with the production of an outdoor play, “The Road to Orange.”
From this event, the Hillsboro Garden Club developed the idea of having a permanent location to exhibit artifacts and educate the public on the county’s history. Supported by their mission “To promote civic improvement, to foster civil pride and to create an awareness and appreciation of the Beauty and Charm of our Town," they formed the Orange County Historical Museum.
The museum was chartered in 1956, and local families donated domestic goods, military relics, costumes, and furniture from their homes, largely from the 18th and 19th centuries, to create the collection. The museum officially opened on November 10, 1957 and was located in the second floor courtroom of the 1845 courthouse. Displays included the “homespun room” and a colonial kitchen. In 1966, the museum contracted artist Kenneth Whitsett to paint large murals depicting events of the 18th century in Orange County.
In 1983, the museum moved out of the courthouse into the Confederate Memorial Building at the corner of Tryon and Churton Streets. Built in 1934, the building had served as the town library since 1935. The museum shared space with the Hillsborough Crafters, a quilting guild. In addition to historic exhibits, the museum began exhibiting the artwork of local artists in the second floor gallery.
In 2000, the museum's Board of Directors revamped the mission statement and expanded its collecting scope. In 2007, the museum's Board of Directors merged with the Hillsborough Historical Society to form the Historical Foundation of Hillsborough and Orange County, which continues the operation of the museum to this day.