Revolution museum settles on Philly after 11 years
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A spot for a Revolutionary War museum has finally been chosen after 11 years of planning and bureaucratic squabbling — about three years longer than it took the Colonies to win independence.
Under an agreement that becomes official Friday, the National Park Service will hand over a site near Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Liberty Bell and other landmarks to the American Revolution Center. In exchange, the Revolution Center will turn over 78 acres in Valley Forge to the National Park Service.
Center officials say their project will be the first national museum dedicated to the Revolution. It will rotate its collection of thousands of 18th-century objects, artifacts and manuscripts and will offer programs, classes and lectures on the War for Independence.
"We're delighted with the location in our nation's cradle of liberty," American Revolution Center president Bruce Cole told The Associated Press. "It gets 3 million visitors every year, visitors who are historically minded. It's the best possible place for us."
As early as 1999, the Park Service and the Revolution Center were collaborating on plans for a museum next to Valley Forge's welcome center about 20 miles outside Philadelphia.
In 2005, however, the museum group announced plans for its own $375 million museum and conference center complex two miles from the welcome center on a parcel it bought across the Schuylkill River from where Gen. George Washington's soldiers endured the bleak winter of 1777-78.
That proposal had called for a 130,000-square-foot museum by architect Robert A.M. Stern, plus a conference center, classrooms and lodging. Supporters had said the project would provide a long-overdue resource for teachers, students, history buffs and scholars.
The Park Service, some neighbors and preservation groups argued that the plans were too commercialized and would diminish the landscape and history of the encampment.
The squabbling went all the way from Lower Providence Township's zoning board to U.S. District Court; the parties reached an agreement in July 2009 and have been hammering out details since then.
The Revolution Center will get $3.2 million from the federal government — the price difference between the appraised values of $1.3 million for the Philadelphia site and $4.5 million for the Valley Forge land, Cole said.
"It's a great moment for everybody," National Park Service spokesman Phil Sheridan said. "We've preserved those 78 acres in Valley Forge, and we get the museum drawing more people to the (Philadelphia attractions)."
For the short term, the Revolution Center will use the existing red-brick building on its new site — an underused former visitors center from the 1976 Bicentennial that most recently housed archaeological labs — for "modest" exhibits aimed at providing visitors with a taste of what is to come, Cole said.
A timetable has not been set for razing the current building and starting work on the museum, said Cole, who declined to go into specifics about what happens next or how much it will cost. He acknowledged that the slow economy makes it an especially difficult time for fundraising but said officials are confident they can raise what's needed.
"It sounds a little trite to call this a win-win," Sheridan said, "but we are all very enthusiastic about it."
American Revolution Center: http://www.americanrevolutioncenter.org
Valley Forge National Historical Park: http://www.nps.gov/vafo