IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Oldest Civil War museum gets a new home

Civil War re-eanactors are seen beneath the dome of the former First Bank of the United States building in Philadelphia. History and tourism leaders announced plans to move the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia to the former bank building.
Civil War re-eanactors are seen beneath the dome of the former First Bank of the United States building in Philadelphia. History and tourism leaders announced plans to move the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia to the former bank building.Matt Rourke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The oldest Civil War museum in the country will be moving from a downtown row house to a classic colonial building close to Independence Hall.

The Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia is slated to reopen in 2010 at its new location, the site of the former First Bank of the United States, museum officials announced Tuesday.

The museum was founded in 1888 and has been tucked away in a four-story house since 1922. Formerly known as the Civil War Library and Museum, it was reborn in 2003 with an emphasis on the Underground Railroad.

Mayor John F. Street presented museum officials with a check for $1.2 million, putting them closer to their goal of raising $25 million for its relocation.

The museum’s board had been trying to secure a new home for years. In 2003, it failed to get a spot in the 131-year-old Memorial Hall, which is being renovated to house a children’s museum.

The move follows years of litigation and funding woes. At one point, there was a possibility parts of the museum’s collection would be moved to Richmond, Va., the former capital of the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln impersonator Christian Johnson began Tuesday’s ceremony in the high-ceiling atrium of the former bank with re-enactors from the Third U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment.

“What a historic day this is,” Johnson said. “I’m pleased to see the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum ... will move here in just a few years to this majestic building.”

The First Bank of the United States, built in 1790s, is much closer to the city’s well-known tourist sites, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, than the museum’s cramped building near Rittenhouse Square. The National Park Service describes the bank building on its Web site as “probably the first important building with a classic facade of marble to be erected in the United States.”

The museum says it has the largest Civil War collection in private hands, including about 3,000 artifacts, 7,000 photographs, hundreds of pieces of art and a 10,000-volume library.

Its board of governors had reorganized and expanded in 2003 with the vision to develop a larger, more visible location for the museum, said E. Harris Baum, chairman of the board.

“We’re going to have a different kind of museum that isn’t just about Gettysburg or Antietam,” Baum said. “This museum is going to be about people, Philadelphians, living in this area during the Civil War.”