Revolutionary War museum closer to reality

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George Washington's tent was photographed in 1909, when the Rev. W. Herbert Burk purchased it from Mary Custis Lee, daughter of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, for the Valley Forge Museum of American History. (American Revolution Center photo)

The years-long campaign to launch a museum in Philadelphia honoring the soldiers of “America’s original ‘greatest generation’ ” reaches another milestone Tuesday.

Having secured a prime location two years ago at Third and Chestnut Streets in the city’s historic district, the museum planned by the American Revolution Center now has a dignified, red-brick design by renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern that should offer visitors an inviting setting both day and night, given its distinctive, lighted cupola.

Also significant, the $150 million project has secured another major funding source to build upon Gov. Corbett’s state pledge of $30 million, with the announcement of a $40 million challenge grant by ARC board Chairman H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who is an owner of The Inquirer’s parent company. The museum must match that gift with other donations.

ARC president and CEO Michael C. Quinn, recruited recently from the Montpelier Foundation, which operates President James Madison’s home in Virginia, says the plan is to open the museum in a little more than three years. Beyond raising funds, ARC officials now face the challenge of designing museum exhibits that will entice visitors to buy a ticket.

Nearby historic buildings, and the Liberty Bell Pavilion under National Park Service stewardship, are free to visit. But the nine-year-old National Constitution Center on a redesigned Independence Mall has gotten tourists accustomed to paying for closer encounters with  history, as has the National Museum of American Jewish History, which opened in 2010.

The new Museum of the American Revolution will offer a unique collection of original artifacts, such as George Washington’s military tent, as it focuses on the history of a conflict that most Americans today only know superficially.

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The museum’s difficult progress so far mimics the sojourn of Washington’s troops during the seven-year fight for America’s independence. In fact, it was this week in 1775 that the first major losses were inflicted on the British by colonials at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

With the announcements Tuesday, the museum  is taking giant steps toward becoming another major tourist attraction that will complement a host of Revolutionary War landmarks in the region.

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