History Lessons in Old City: A Visit to the Museum of the American Revolution

by Brenda Hillegas

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In just a few days, you’ll be able to read RowHome Magazine writer Jane Roser’s interview with Michael Quinn, the President and CEO of Philadelphia’s newest museum which explores the story of the American Revolution and our city’s part in America’s founding. And just a few short days after our spring issue’s release, you’ll be able to actually visit the Museum of the American Revolution (101 South 3rd Street) when it opens on April 19th- the 242nd anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world” that launched the Revolutionary War in 1775.

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Today, Jane and I were invited to visit the museum as part of a press preview. The museum’s goal is to give visitor’s a deeper appreciation of what went into establishing our nation. There are artifacts, hands on and interactive exhibits, lots of visual displays, theaters, and galleries all displayed chronologically to take you through the importance of the Revolution and the many, many ties to Philadelphia’s surrounding areas.

IMG_4345 (1)Press preview festivities began with previous Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, telling us about the history of this vision of a museum and the long road of making it a reality. Thoughts began in 2003 as the Valley Forge Historical Society moved their large collection to their non-profit organization (also known as the Museum of the American Revolution) with hopes to establish a larger museum. In 2009, the Board decided that the museum should be in Philadelphia (over a few possible sites in Valley Forge) and in 2010, the National Park Service gave up ownership of a portion of the Independence National Historic Park for the Museum. Thanks to generous support from people all over the country, the Museum’s $150 million campaign was far exceeded and here we are today. Thanks as well to the Robert A.M. Stern Architects and INTECH Construction for their parts in creating 118,000 square feet of history.

Key artifacts include items owned by/used by George and Martha Washington, weapons and firearms, paintings, portraits, the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, soldiers’ letters, law books owned by Patrick Henry, personal items from soldiers and individuals during that time period, and even slave shackles. Every bit of the Revolution is covered here, all sides of the story, the names you’ve heard and the names you haven’t.

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Walk under a lifesize replica of America’s first Liberty Tree. These trees became gathering places where the first whispers of revolt against the British empire were discussed. This replica was created by Scenery First in Sharon Hill, PA.
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In the Oneida Indian Nation Gallery, figures of six Native American men and women are featured. This gallery is dedicated to the Oneida Indian Nation- one of the first allies to support the idea of a United States. They fought alongside American soldiers. These figures were created by New York’s Atta Inc. with the media portion of the gallery produced by Donna Lawrence Productions.
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Step on board this reconstruction of an American privateer ship. It was build by the Independence Seaport Museum’s boat-building workshop, Workshop on the Water. Americans relied heavily on the old tradition of privateering. You’ll learn more in the War at Sea gallery, including the story of James Forten, a 14-year-old African American who volunteered aboard a ship like this one to fight the British Navy.

The museum also proudly displays George Washington’s headquarters’ tent. It’s one of the most iconic surviving artifacts of the Revolution as it served as Washington’s office and sleeping quarters for much of the war. It was made right in Reading, PA while Washington was encamped at Valley Forge in 1778. Did I take photos of it? Yes. Are they in this blog post somewhere? Nope. That’s something you should go see in person. But here are some other photos for you to click through in the meantime…

Ready to buy your tickets yet? Perfect for summer trips to the museum with your family, a restaurant just across the street, the Little Lion, will now be open for breakfast starting Monday, April 17th as the Museum of the American Revolution prepares to officially open next week. The Little Lion– Alexander Hamilton’s nickname*- will host weekday breakfast service Monday through Friday, from 8:00am to 11:00am. The menu will include a la carte items, an express breakfast buffet, and a coffee bar menu. On Saturdays and Sundays, The Little Lion will open two hours earlier, at 8:00am going forward, with their weekend brunch and cocktail menu as well.

Members of the press who attended the Museum’s opening preview today were also invited to the Little Lion to sample their new breakfast items. See for yourself. Trust me, it was all delicious, but right now all I can think about was the chocolate caramel pretzel latte that I didn’t try.

The Little Lion and the Museum of the American Revolution have a great partnership going on. During the museum’s grand opening, all ticket holders can show their ticket at The Little Lion at any time, seven days a week for a free mini corn hoecake (George Washington’s favorite breakfast)! All museum members can also save 15% off their food and drink by showing their membership card at any time, seven days a week.

The Little Lion will also support the Philadelphia tourism efforts by providing a special discount on food and drink on opening day for visiting journalists! As for large groups or field trips coming to the museum, The Little Lion plans to create a special group lunch menu for $20.00 per guest (with non-alcoholic beverage, tax and gratuity included).

If you’ll be at the museum on opening day (again, that’s April 19th), The Little Lion will be creating a special revolution-inspired dish to support their new neighbor. The Hamilton Steak ($21.00) is based on research with the Museum on Hamilton’s favorite foods. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the entrée on April 19th will be donated to the Museum of the American Revolution.

Overall, this really is a great museum. How do I even review such a place? I won’t. I can’t say why you specifically should visit and I can’t suggest highlights of the museum. But if you live in the Philadelphia area, or you’re just passing through for a few days, I think it’s incredibly important to make a stop at the Museum of the American Revolution. Even if you’re a history buff, a Revolutionary War expert, a person who knows his town’s history- I bet you’ll find something in this museum that you didn’t know. You can read more in Jane’s article on our website in a few days. Or you can head to the museum’s website now and plan your trip. But honestly, in a word, this place is impressive.

Buy your timed tickets in advance here.

*Hey, while we’re on the subject of Hamilton…can anyone out there get me tickets to some Broadway show about him? I hear it’s great! Please? Pretty please with those toasted marshmallows from the Little Lion on top?! Oh, it’s impossible you say? Eh, worth a shot…

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