Museum to focus on issues of the era

Facility, near the Schuylkill River, expected to link other historical sites

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VALLEY FORGE, Pa. -- The American Revolution Center's planned museum will serve as a critical link among Pennsylvania's Revolutionary War sites, organizers say. When it opens in 2011, it also will serve as a model of green construction and environmental sensitivity.

The three-level museum will be built into a hillside on 78 acres near the north bank of the Schuylkill River. The land on which it will sit is within the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historical Park but will remain privately owned.

The 130,000-square-foot museum was designed by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of Yale's architecture school, with Balmori Associates as landscape architect. Nearby will be a confer- ence center and 99-room hotel.

Ralph Appelbaum and Associates, exhibit designers for the Clinton Library in Little Rock and the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., will do the same for the American Revolution Center.

About half the museum will be underground, and its roof will be landscaped with plants and grasses.

Extensive shrubbery and trees, along with the natural topography of the tract, will help hide the buildings and parking areas. The site also will become part of existing and planned walking and biking trails.

The land is just across the Schuylkill River from the main portion of Valley Forge Historical Park and within an easy drive of other many sites linked to the Revolution, including Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center

"This planned museum will present material from not just the war but from the whole Revolution," said Holly Mayer, an associate professor and chair of the history department at Duquesne University, and a member of the center's board of scholars. "Visitors will be able to learn about the politics, social issues and military issues, and then they can go on to other nearby sites for more information.

"Our hope is that a trip to the museum will pique visitors' interest to go to other sites."

The more than 15,000 items in the center's collection include George Washington's marquee, or sleeping tent; "Washington before Trenton," a painting by John Trumbull; and clothing belonging to George and Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Among Dr. Mayer's favorite items are 19th century mementos of the American Revolution, some of which, she said, are of doubtful authenticity.

"Well before the Civil War people were collecting spoons and little silver cups that may have belonged to Washington," she said. "People wanted physical artifacts that may have been held by him in the same way that people in the Middle Ages collected pieces of the true cross.

"Americans were developing their own sacred memories."

The center's collection has continued to grow. One recent acquisition is a 19th century copy of Auguste Couder's painting of Washington, Lafayette and French Gen. Rochambeau. The original hangs in the Royal Palace at Versailles.

The 15-by-17-foot painting shows them standing in front of Washington's blue-and-white-striped headquarters tent.

"That's our tent, which was the Oval Office of its day," said ZeeAnn Mason, the center's senior vice president.


Len Barcousky can be reached at lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.


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