Revolutionary War Museum Surrenders

A final Revolutionary War battle has come to an end. Plans for a $200 million museum complex inside Valley Forge National Historical Park — where George Washington's army once camped — have been scrapped. After vocal opposition and legal challenges, the planned American Revolution Center will now be built about 25 miles away, in the heart of Philadelphia.

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The Declaration of Independence was signed on this day in 1776. Revolutionary War followed, of course. It's taken 10 years to build a museum dedicated to that war. It was supposed to be in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, but a litigation war began between preservationists and developers.

From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Peter Crimmins reports the battle's finally come to an end.

PETER CRIMMINS: The American Revolution Center began with an ambitious idea to tell the story of the entire American Revolution. In addition to a museum, it would also include a conference center and a hotel built on 78 acres of private land inside Valley Forge National Historic Park. Preservationists howled that such a development would mar the open-space park, but the ARC prevailed through a lawsuit and announced crews would break ground in May. That never happened.

Suddenly this week, the National Park Service announced a deal had been struck. A museum would not be built in Valley Forge, but rather at Third and Chestnut Streets in downtown Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of street vehicles)

CRIMMINS: Park Service spokesman Phil Sheridan says the government is going to trade an acre of urban real estate with the ARC.

Mr. PHIL SHERIDAN (National Park Service): The land we're standing on will no longer belong to the American people. It'll belong to the American Revolution Center. And the 78 acre parcel they own inside the boundary of Valley Forge will go to the National Park Service for the American people.

CRIMMINS: It seems the protest worked in the long run. The National Park Conservation Association, a national advocacy group, fought the Valley Forge site in town councils, in planning commissions, and in court. The plans still went forward. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell found $8 million in state money, and philanthropist Gerry Lenfest took five million out of his own pocket to start the Valley Forge development.

But Lenfest says the damage was done.

Mr. GERRY LENFEST (Philanthropist): With that cloud over our head, we couldn't really go out and run a campaign to raise money. Well, you know, the National Park Conservation Association sort of hamstrung us. But this is a better location than Valley Forge and we're all extremely excited.

CRIMMINS: So far nobody's objecting to using a little known site in a downtown historic district to create a tri-corner of revolutionary fervor. The new museum will be a stone's throw from both Independence Hall, where the Declaration was signed, and the National Constitution Center.

However, it leaves Valley Forge kind of in the cold. The local Chamber of Commerce and the town council were hoping a museum would boost the number of visitors to the area. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation oversees both downtown Philadelphia and Valley Forge. CEO Meryl Levitz says Valley Forge officials could still use the downtown museum to their advantage.

Ms. MERYL LEVITZ (Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation): They could think of it as they now have an outpost right on Independence Mall that can get more people to go out to Valley Forge, which is something they didn't have before.

CRIMMINS: Though it will still be a fight to drive tourists 25 miles north to Valley Forge.

For NPR News, I'm Peter Crimmins in Philadelphia.

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