The Cowan Museum of History and Science was founded in 1981 by George and Ila Cowan as a memorial to their daughter, Joann Cowan Brown. It is housed within the Kelly-Farrior House (ca. 1848) and has an adjacent historical park with 6 buildings, which include a log cabin, general store, and a tobacco barn. Also on the grounds is a botanical garden with approximately 90 species of commercially-available native plants in what has become one of the region's first free, public native-plant-focused botanical landscape garden. This outdoor space, which is open 24-hours a day, has pollinator gardens, a wet meadow garden, Longleaf Pine upland garden, and a Bald Cypress wetland garden.
Of the 4,300 objects in the collections, about 2,000 were donated to Duplin County by the Cowan family, with most focusing on 19th and 20th century tools and technology that document a history of innovation, resourcefulness, and creativity. Objects on display include a diversity of woodworking tools, gardening tools, agricultural implements, items used in a variety of crafts and trades, medical devices, many household artifacts, and an impressive collection of geological specimens. Unique items may be encountered onsite, such as a 1930s permanent wave machine, an alternative fuel fan, and a hog oiler.
The Cowan Museum of History and Science is funded by Duplin County Government and generous grants from the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.