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Land Swap Moves American Revolution Center Out of Valley Forge National Historical Park


In a surprising move that resolves a long-simmering feud, the proponents of the American Revolution Center have worked out a deal with the National Park Service to build the complex in Philadelphia at Independence National Historical Park and not in the middle of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

That announcement was made jointly Wednesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and officials from the American Revolution Center. According to that announcement, the National Park Service will develop a national museum dedicated to the American Revolution. To do so, the Park Service signed a land-exchange agreement with ARC to establish this museum at Independence National Historical Park. In return, the Park Service obtains 78 acres of rolling meadowlands surrounded by Valley Forge.

The land swap brings to a close an at-times bitter battle over whether the bucolic acreage just north of the Schuylkill River would be turned into a museum complex complete with a restaurant, tavern, and hotel or preserved for its historical significance as part of the Continental Army's successful winter encampment of 1777-1778.

The land, which embraces meadows, wetlands, and forests cut by two streams, is known to locals as the Pawling Farm. The acreage is surrounded by the national historical park and long has been cherished by the Park Service for addition to Valley Forge.

“This is wonderful news for both the National Park Service and the American Revolution Center,” said Secretary Salazar. “Visitors to our nation’s birthplace will now be able to enjoy a world-class museum dedicated to the story of the American Revolution within the shadow of Independence Hall.”

The new American Revolution Center will be located at 3rd and Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, within the 55-acre Independence National Historical Park.

“The American Revolution Center is a critical project for our nation, and I am extremely pleased with this latest development,” said H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, chairman of the Board of Directors of ARC. "We have expended extraordinary time and resources to locate the Center in Valley Forge, and I believe that our vision there could have been achieved. We now believe that it is in our best interest to begin a new chapter for ARC, and I cannot think of a more appropriate setting than at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.”

At Independence National Historical Park, the National Park Service manages several sites associated with the American Revolution, including the Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall. ARC will work together with these and other institutions around the country and the world to further the understanding of the revolution.

The American Revolution Center will be the first national museum to commemorate the entire story of the American Revolution. The museum will display its distinguished collection of objects, artifacts and manuscripts from the American Revolution era and will offer educational programming, lectures, symposia, and interactive learning for teachers, students, and the general public.

“I applaud the mission of The American Revolution Center and fully support the decision to relocate,” said Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell. “I am thrilled that Gerry Lenfest, Dr. Bruce Cole and ARC’s Board have selected Philadelphia for the new home of this national museum and I believe it will be a terrific complement to Independence National Historical Park area.”

Dan Wenk, acting Park Service director, said the agency "has long supported the concept of the American Revolution Center. What better place than Philadelphia, the ‘cradle of liberty,’ for a museum about the American Revolution?”

Representatives from the American Revolution Center and the National Park Service will work jointly on appraisals, title searches, surveys, and other matters to move the land exchange process forward as quickly as possible.

The announcement was applauded by Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, which went to court with its efforts to halt the project from being built.

“We congratulate the American Revolution Center and the National Park Service in the agreement announced today to locate the Center’s proposed museum at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia-just a few blocks from Independence Hall," said Mr. Kiernan. "

This agreement will allow visitors to enjoy the museum on an appropriate site in a historically-rich area, while also protecting the historic landscape of Valley Forge National Historical Park for our children and grandchildren. We look forward to learning the details of the new site plan, and helping the American Revolution Center and the National Park Service any way we can to make this new plan a reality.”


After all the acrimony over this project, it sounds like someone pulled off a major negotiation coup.

I don't have first-hand knowledge about either location, but this sounds like a real plus for Valley Forge, and there's certainly logic in the choice of the site in Philadelphia.

Well, Jim, they get a ready-built museum building out of it, right in the heart of the historic district of Philadelphia.

this is the 'old' Independence park visitor center, one that was originally conceived to be connected directly to an off-ramp off Rt 95, straight into a parking garage and via ramp into the VC. But the ramps were never built, although the parking garage and VC were. I put 'old' in quotes because it is a piece of relatively modern architecture, in a sort of a Denver-Service-Center-way.

the building has 3 distinguished works of architecture directly next to it: most important, across the street is the First National Bank, a National Historic Landmark. The old VC is designed with a glass front just to reflect the majesty of this National Landmark, which is really the start of the historic buildings leading to Independence Hall on Chestnut St.

Just south of the 'old' VC (new museum) is the Exchange Building, also owned by the American people and managed on their behalf by the National Park Service. The Exchange Bldg is the favorite piece of architecture of many Philadelphians. When the NPS needed to give it a major rehab (the original interior of this old stock exchange was completely gone) many visionaries advised the NPS to open it to the public to interpret the history of American commerce. What a wonder it would have been ! Instead, the superintendent turned it into offices for herself, and quite grand offices they are, with towering floor to ceiling windows. When the then-mayor, now Governor and several inside the NPS pressed this superintendent to reconsider, the one compromise she made was to eliminate the shower she had in her office, but otherwise, keep the building for administrative purposes.

Just east of the new museum building is a Moderne tower, operated by the General Services Administration. It is covered with spectatular deco, inside and out. the new museum building stands right on the cusp between the historic Society Hill on one side, Old Town on the other, and just west, Independence Mall. This is a first class bit of real estate, that you can imagine making millions and millions for the NPS were it to be disposed of on public auction as many assumed it would. Instead, without competition, it will be a negotiated deal. For this, Mr. Lenfest gives up 78 acres of undeveloped land with no real utilities or sufficient road access, that would cost well more than $100 M to build, money he had not been able to raise via fundraising, and would not get for years and years and years, if at all. It would have been better if properly sized Valley Forge museum, with a combined ARC-NPS historic collection, could have been built, which could have happened if the NPS had been led by better leaders during the Bush years, and the ARC leadership had a little less ego an a bit more sense of public responsibility. But, we are lucky the Obama people at least saved the day in Valley Forge, and got all the Alpha Males into a place where they cannot make as much mayhem.

Here is a link, or at least an address, to a photo of the new museum building, the 'old' VC -- I'm not sure I can download a Philadelphia Inquirer staff photo on this site !

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