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Construction begins on the Bucks African American Museum

Bucks County leaders on Wednesday broke ground on a planned African-American museum near Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Work has begun on a $3.7 million renovation project to transform an 18th-century stone farmhouse into one of the few historic black-centric attractions in the entire county.

When it opens, likely in 2024, the Bucks County African American Museum will be the only African American museum in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia.

“I’m thrilled,” said Linda Salley, the museum’s executive director. “It’s a long time coming.”

Linda Salley, President and Executive Director of the Bucks County African American Museum, stands in front of the 300-year-old farmhouse that will become the museum’s home. She is joined by her husband, Alonzo Salley. (Emma Lee/WHY)

The three-story, 4,000-square-foot New Museum home along Langhorne-Newtown Road in Middletown Township was once the historic Boone Farm. The property now belongs to the municipality. With its boarded-up windows and crumbling porch, it’s been dilapidated for as long as most residents can remember.

“I’ve been walking past since I was a candy tracer at St. Mary’s [Medical Center] in 1974,” said County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia. “As supervisor of Middletown, a lot of people complained, ‘What are you going to do with this building?'”

Around 2018, Ellis-Marseglia found a match at the Bucks County African American Museum, an independent nonprofit established in 2014. It is based at nearby Langhorne Manor and has always operated as a nomadic exhibitor.

Bucks County Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia speaks at the dedication of the county’s first African American Museum at Boone Farm in Middletown Township. (Emma Lee/WHY)

Salley said the museum will tell the story of Bucks County, from the Lenni Lenape people, through slavery and black emancipation, to the great migration of the 20th century.

“You can’t talk about this land without talking about the Lenape Indians, because it belonged to them. They gave this land to William Penn,” she said. “We have to start at the beginning and bring it to the present, because that’s the problem: the story has never been told. Bucks County is home to many wonderful museums. I have been to all of them. But none of them tell our story.

In 2020, Bucks County deeded the Boone Farm property to the museum for a $1 lease, but the COVID pandemic slowed progress on the project. Together, the museum and the county are raising renovation costs from public funds and private donations, including donations from Parx Casino and Sesame Place. At the groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, State Representative Frank Ferry announced that the state would contribute $250,000 to the project.

The Boone Farm is not just an available property ready for renovation: it has played a role in the history of African Americans in Bucks County.

While teaching a quilting class about 20 years ago in Bristol, Salley discovered that some of her older students could trace their families back to Boone Farm during the great migration of the early 20th century, when many Southern blacks moved north to find work. .

Boone Farm in Middletown Township will house Bucks County’s first African American museum. Built in the early 1700s and operating until the mid-20th century, the farm employed many African Americans en route north during the Great Migration. (Emma Lee/WHY)

“One day one of the ladies said, ‘Do you know how we got here?’ I said, “No, I don’t,” Salley recalls. “She says, ‘We emigrated from Mississippi. We went out in the middle of the night and there was a brochure or flyer or whatever they had at the time. We picked it up and told the family members, ‘They’re hiring at Boone Farm.’ »

Salley had never heard of Boone Farm before and didn’t know where it was.

“I said, ‘Really?’ “Yes, we worked at Boone Farm, and on that farm we made enough money. No one took our money. We saved it and we bought our houses, and we actually sent our kids to college.

Many families who worked at Boone Farm later settled permanently in Bucks County.

Now every window in the Boone farmhouse is smashed and the doors are sealed with plywood. Buck County Project Officer Bernard Griggs said the interior was completely gutted, with no electrical, plumbing or air conditioning systems intact. Part of the renovation involves installing new windows and doors, replacing the roof, making structural repairs, and installing utility systems.

Bucks County Commissioners have approved a $2.39 million contract to restore Boone Farm, which will house the county’s first African American museum. (Emma Lee/WHY)

The landscape around the building will be partially paved for parking, cleared of dead and dying trees, and renovated for stormwater management.

“The building is also getting an elevator, as it will be used for public purposes. By code it must have an elevator,” Griggs said. “As the owner of the project, we committed to doing a full core and shell build, all the prep work and all that kind of stuff, and then basically handing over a white box to the people at the museum to do theirs. construction of shop windows and interior finishes.

Landscaping work begins immediately and home renovations are expected to begin early next year. Griggs said the county will likely work on the property for about a year before handing over the keys to the museum.