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County dedicates 'Charters of Freedom' at Historic Courthouse

County officials look at the Charters of Freedom. County officials look at the Charters of Freedom.

Henderson County officials on Wednesday dedicated the new display of America’s founding documents at the Historic Courthouse plaza with speeches, a cannon salute, an honor guard and patriotic music.

A gift of a nonprofit organization called Foundation Forward Inc., the Charters of Freedom displays the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights exhibit displays the first proposed 12 amendments, 10 of which were ratified by the states and became the Bill of Rights. The historical documents rest on concrete foundations that are sunk 3 feet into the ground and weigh more than 19 tons. The façade is covered with natural stone locally quarried.
The nonprofit organization that brought the monuments here was founded by Vance Patterson. A Morganton resident who owns a company that makes industrial fans, Patterson ran for the 11th Congressional District seat in 2012, losing to Mark Meadows in a Republican primary runoff.
The ceremony included music by the West Henderson High School band, a welcome by County Commission Chair Michael Edney, invocation by Commissioner Tommy Thompson, Pledge of Allegiance led by Commissioner Grady Hawkins, recognition of other elected officials by Commissioner Bill Lapsley and acceptance of the exhibit by Commissioner Charlie Messer.
On a visit to Washington seven years ago, Patterson told the audience of 50 people, he and his wife, Mary Jo, went to see the nation’s founding documents in the National Archives for the first time.
“The first time I saw the Declaration of Independence, I just got goose bumps,” he said. “And then when I moved over to the first page of the Constitution I actually got a lump in my throat. It was a very emotional experience.”
When he left, two thoughts lingered.
“First of all, I’d probably never see these documents again, because it took me 60 years to see them the first time,” he said. “And second, most people would never see these original documents.”
He vowed to start a project that would educate people about the charters of freedom by having the documents visible and accessible in their communities. The day after the Burke County Board of Commissioners approved Patterson’s request to place them at the courthouse in Morganton, he realized he had no information on how the display was arranged in the National Archives. “There are no drawings, no dimensions, only pictures,” he said.
Patterson and Mary Jo drove to Washington to figure it out. He recalled that he made two large strides in front of the display cases to measure the size. Mary Jo stood next to them “and was marking on her body the elevations.”
“So while what’s sitting here may not be exactly what’s up in Washington, keep in mind it’s based on two paces of a short guy and three marks on my wife’s body,” he said. On July 2, 2014, they dedicated the first Charters of Freedom display, in Morganton. A second one was placed in Murphy and a third one was dedicated in downtown Asheville. Then the couple branched out, to Jacksonville, Illinois, where Mary Jo grew up, then to Kokomo, Indiana, where Patterson grew up. Hendersonville’s is the 15th overall and the ninth in North Carolina.
“Yours is the first one to be done out of local stone,” he said. “And I think it turned out to be an incredible setting. I’m very proud of this one. … People ask us, Why are we doing this, because it’s very expensive. We believe it’s a direct link to our founding farmers by helping to preserve what it is they gave this country, a government, to serve and protect the people. And also, from the beginning, this has been about education.”
Patterson asked the audience to imagine schoolchildren visiting the documents and learning about the founding documents and about how their national, state and local government work. There are more than 3,100 cities, towns, counties and parishes in the U.S.
“Our goal is to put a Charters of Freedom setting in as many of those communities as possible over the next 10 years,” he said.