A move that will make History
LancasterHistory.org, flush with space and new artifacts, prepares to reopen. By Jane Holahan, Entertainment Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who has ever moved knows what it feels like.
Excitement, yes, but there's plenty of exhaustion and stress and frustration as you try to remember which box you put the salt and pepper shakers in.
Now try to imagine two households coming together in a new home -- a home that houses approximately 18,000 items and 300 years of history.
And you're not looking for salt and pepper shakers but some vital and priceless item pertaining to Lancaster County history.
The Heritage Center Museum, which closed its Penn Square location at the end of 2011, and LancasterHistory.org, the county's historical society, have set up housekeeping together, merging their two collections -- 15,000 pieces from the historical society and a little less than 3,000 from the Heritage Center.
And they've moved back into the newly renovated and expanded historical society headquarters at the corner of President and Marietta avenues. The $8.6 million upgrade more than doubled the society's available space to 35,000 square feet.
LancasterHistory.org will reopen for business Monday, Feb. 4.
But before that, on Friday, the public is welcome to attend an open house. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is at 9 a.m., and LancasterHistory.org will be open until 7 p.m.
"Come in and gape and see how wonderful it is," says a smiling Tom Ryan, president and CEO of LancasterHistory.org.
The new space features an exhibit hall, a theater area, a 240-seat lecture hall and a much larger library, where the public can research the county's history.
The facility is state-of-the-art, with proper lighting and climate control.
Visitors are also welcome to walk the refurbished 10-acre grounds, now called the Campus of History, which encompasses Wheatland, the estate of former president James Buchanan.
"The history community is coming together," Ryan says. "There is a lot of positive energy about this facility being built."
Wheatland became part of the historical society in 2009; the society took control of the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site in downtown Lancaster in 2010; and then last year, the Heritage Center came on board.
"We definitely want to be more public oriented," Ryan says. "We are planning to have more evening events."
Moving began in December, and the unpacking has continued steadily through the new year.
"Things have gone smoothly for the most part," Ryan says. "But it's been a lot of 10- and 12-hour days."
"I'm excited about the new facilities," says curator Barry Rauhauser, who planned and oversaw the move. "But I will be more excited when I'm not so tired."
With the arrival of the Heritage Center collection -- which includes furniture, textiles, paintings, long rifles, Fraktur and other decorative arts -- even the new facility will have storage issues.
"The Heritage Center collection is smaller in terms of numbers, but the pieces themselves are larger," Ryan says. "Our archives for decorative arts don't give us a lot of room to expand. Our archives for the paper library give us good expansion space."
That means some purging will have to take place.
"We have to take a hard look at what we have," says Wendell Zercher, curator of the Heritage Center collection. "For example, they had four or five saddles, and we had one. Do we need six saddles? What kind of shape are they in?"
Or take clocks. Both organizations have dozens in their collections.
"What is the interpretive value of each of them? Do we need to keep them all?" Ryan asks. "There will be a deliberative process of cleaning things out (from both collections) so the best stuff is here."
Both Zercher and Ryan agree that there is nothing unusual about cutting collections back. It's a necessity. And funds raised from any sales go back into maintaining the collection.
Of course, prized items, like the Esprit Quilt Collection or some of the finest examples of 18th-century Pennsylvania German furniture, will not be touched.
Visitors will be able to see part of the collection in the storage area, thanks to a glass wall.
For Zercher, the move is bittersweet.
At the end of 2011, the doors to both the Quilt and Textile Museum and the Heritage Center Museum closed due to financial problems.
"We couldn't bear to see the collection leave Lancaster County, so when we knew the end was in sight, we started looking for a place our collection could go," Zercher says. "Coming here was really a no-brainer."
And while construction was still going on, tweaks were made to the facility. For example, some of the walls were designed to make it easier to hang quilts.
"There's a sadness for the loss," Zercher says. "But we're coming full circle."
Indeed. Back in 1976, when the Heritage Center was formed, the historical society was one of its founding members.
"From the 1880s to the 1970s, the historical society was the repository for (historical items)," Ryan says. "We helped the Heritage Center come into being and stopped actively pursuing decorative art items."
The two collections have different philosophies behind them.
"With the decorative arts, if a piece is beautiful, you want it. But at a history museum, the layers of stories behind the piece are what we are interested in, even if it isn't beautiful looking," says Ryan. "Now we are getting this mixture of the two."
Zercher is thrilled with the new space.
"It's quite a transition -- like entering the modern age," he says with a laugh.
The building that housed the Heritage Center Museum was, at one time, a Masonic hall and the old city hall.
While it was a fascinating and historic space, it was dark and cut up into a variety of small rooms. Putting an exhibition together was a challenge.
"This is fully state-of-the-art," Zercher says. "This is a terrific space."
Unlike the Heritage Center Museum, which had a static collection on display along with changing ones, there will be no permanent exhibition hall at Lancasterhistory.org.
"This is an organization that is always changing," Ryan says. "One room cannot tell the definitive story of Lancaster County."
The first exhibit will be up in April.
As is bound to happen, the two collections overlap and complement each other to a certain degree.
For example, the Heritage Center owns a poster that honors a mid-19th-century fire company. The historical society owns a horn that was used in the ceremony that honored the company.
An area will be dedicated to exhibiting those connected pieces. Otherwise, the collections will be fully integrated.
"But pieces will always carry a designation that they are from the Heritage Center collection," Ryan says.
He is excited about the addition of Zercher to the staff.
"We now have two stellar curators handling this collection," Ryan says. "It's a long process ahead, (and) we have to think of ourselves differently. We have to retool."
But, he adds, looking at the shelves full of newly unpacked items from the past, "the collective history and memory of Lancaster County is in good hands."
Lancasterhistory.org's storefront gallery, at 4 W. King St., also will reopen Friday.