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2020 News

African American Museum Lands Permanent Home on Historic Bucks Farm

September 4, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: James O’Malley, 215-348-6414, jtomalley@buckscounty.org

A roving operation since its inception, the African American Museum of Bucks County will be homeless no more.

The museum is set to occupy historic Boone Farm in Middletown Township, which it will rent from the county for $1 per year through September 2030. Bucks County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the rental contract Wednesday during their first of two September meetings.

“This is close to my heart and I am very excited about this,” said Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, who recently toured the property with Commissioners Bob Harvie and Gene DiGirolamo.

Rehabilitating the empty farmhouse along Route 413, parts of which date to 1716, was a passion of the late Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick during his time as a county commissioner, Marseglia explained.

Built in the early 1700s, the property operated as a farm until the mid-20th century. Due in part to the extensive upgrades required, Fitzpatrick’s effort found itself on indefinite hold.

“Finally, we have been able to put the pieces together,” Marseglia said, “and it will hopefully very soon be the African American Museum.”

Established in 2014, the African American Museum of Bucks County (AAMBC) has existed solely as a “mobile museum,” displaying exhibits and artifacts at schools, libraries, senior centers and other locations throughout the county.

The museum’s exhibit “Building on the Dream: From Africa to Bucks County” is on display through Oct. 1 at the Bucks County Visitor Center, and was featured last year at the Pearl S. Buck House. 
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A permanent physical location will allow the museum to better serve its mission of educating the public and honoring the legacy of the African American experience, said AAMBC President Linda Salley.

Salley said she first learned of Boone Farm in 2003 while teaching a group of elderly black women to quilt. The women said they had fled the rural south in their youth, Salley explained, seeking a better life in Bucks County.

After settling in the Terrace in Bristol, the women found paying work at Boone Farm.

When Commissioner Marseglia told her that AAMBC would have the opportunity to occupy the farm, Salley said, “I almost fell out of the chair.”

“This took a lot of doing,” she said. “We are extremely grateful to the Bucks County Commissioners for this wonderful opportunity to bring our shared history to the Bucks County community.”

AAMBC hopes to open its doors to the public in the second half of 2021.

County Project and Diversity Officer Bernard Griggs said the effort to convert the farmhouse into a museum is moving “full steam ahead.”

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Philadelphia-based Pennoni will handle the engineering end of the project, he said, and will work with an architect to craft a proposal for renovations. Once a proposal is approved, a contractor for the project will be chosen through a public bidding process.

The museum space is set to occupy the lower levels, with museum’s headquarters living in offices on the third floor. Engineers surveying the site will work with a consultant to preserve the property’s historic value while bringing the building up to modern safety and accessibility standards.

“From the very first tour that we took there, keeping in mind my construction background, I could see that there’s a lot of work. But I know that the work can be done, and done professionally,” he said. “We’re good to go.”

Griggs said he is hopeful costs to the county for the Boone Farm renovations will come in under $300,000.

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