Since its inception in 2014, the African American Museum of Bucks County has been entirely mobile, traveling to more than 50 schools, libraries and senior centers to share the rich history of African Americans in the county and beyond.
Now, the roving museum has a place to call home.
During the Bucks County Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2, it was announced that the museum will occupy the historic Boone Farm, located in Middletown Township, which it will rent from the county for $1 per year through September 2030. The rental contract was unanimously approved by the commissioners.
“We are extremely grateful to the Bucks County Commissioners for this wonderful opportunity to bring our shared history to the Bucks County community,” said museum president Linda Salley. “This physical location will enable us to host school children, families and individuals to better serve the museum’s mission of educating the public and honoring the legacy of the African American experience from African roots to the present day.”
Salley expressed her excitement that all of this will take place at Boone Farm, which holds a special place in her heart. After retiring from the New York City Board of Education in 2003, she volunteered as a teacher for 12 women from Bristol Township who were interested in learning how to quilt. The group, called “The Young at Heart,” had great stories to tell from their days in the rural South.
“They often talked about Boone Farm, and how they came up north in the middle of the night leaving the southern states looking for work. That is when I realized they were part of the great migration. They settled in Bristol in a little area now called the Terrace. They described how a truck would come pick them up and take them to Boone Farm. They would work all day, and the truck would return them back home each night. All they wanted was a better life for themselves and their children,” said Salley. “After hearing their incredible stories, in 2006, we put together an annual award banquet honoring Bristol historic African Americans. The theme was ‘For Our People.’ ”
At the time, Salley admitted she had no idea where Boone Farm was located. Although Harvey Spencer, “father” of the museum, pointed out the building to her once before, he never said what it was called.
“When I met Diane Marseglia, we talked at length about the museum and I asked her about the building as a possible home for the museum. When she called a few months ago and said, ‘It is a possibility that you might get the Boone Farm,’ I was shocked to find out that the building I had asked about was, in fact, the Boone Farm. I almost fell out of my chair,” said Salley. “The story that was never known, how African Americans left the South and worked on Boone Farm to get their start in Bristol, has come full circle and we are thrilled to be able to tell this and many other untold stories.”
According to Commissioner Chair Marseglia, transforming Boone Farm was a passion project of the late Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick when he was a commissioner. But due to the extensive upgrades required, Fitzpatrick’s effort found itself on an indefinite hold.
“It is an honor to be able to see something Mike cared about be revived, relieved and rehabilitated in such an appropriate and remarkable way,” said Marseglia.
The property, located on Langhorne-Newtown Road (Route 413) near St. Mary Medical Center, hosts one of the earliest known houses in the county and features several structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to the Godfrey-Kirk House, the only house documented in Bucks County with two stone sections that were constructed before 1719. Named after the mason who built it, the house was initially built as a residence for artisans and was later converted into a farm.
While the electrical, plumbing and drainage systems require updating, the overall infrastructure remains in good shape. County project and diversity officer Bernard Griggs said the effort to convert the farmhouse into a museum is moving “full steam ahead.” Philadelphia-based Pennoni will handle the engineering of the project 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 its headquarters situated 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,” said Griggs. “We’re good to go.”
Griggs added that he’s hopeful costs to the county for renovations will come in under $300,000. The museum is slated to open its doors to the public in the second half of 2021.
Visit infoaambc.org for more information and updates.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org