The Museum of the Confederacy is headquartered in Richmond, Va. Yet the institution has seen a decline in annual attendance by half since 1991, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a spike of visitors increased attendance by 25 percent in the past two years.
The museum is set to expand with a grand opening event March 31.
The Museum of the Confederacy first opened its doors Feb. 22, 1896, at the Davis Mansion. The venue was the former home to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Visitors grew to about 20,000 per year in the 1950s. During the centennial commemorations of the Civil War in the 1960s, it became apparent the outdated facility needed to be refurbished.
A modern museum building opened in 1976. The Davis Mansion, known as the White House of the Confederacy, underwent a major renovation for 10 years. The new museum is next to the Davis Mansion.
The Times-Dispatch article states only about 100,000 of Virginia's 6.5 million Civil War tourists visit the former Confederate capital. A new branch of the museum in Appomattox will bring a renewed interest in the artifacts housed at the Museum of the Confederacy.
Appomattox, despite being in rural Virginia and 90 miles away from Richmond, sees 70,000 tourists per year in regular business. The new museum will allow more of the collection to be seen. The Associated Press reports only about 10 percent of the collection is displayed at one time in Richmond. The Appomattox branch will bring more Civil War artifacts into the open for visitors to see.
At a cost of $10 million, the 11,700-square-foot facility will have collections centered around the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at nearby Appomattox Courthouse. The uniform worn by Lee that day will be displayed, as will the legendary sword Lee supposedly offered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant who declined to take Lee's final piece of dignity.
The new museum will display 454 artifacts centered upon what happened at Appomattox. The building is just a mile away from the historic courthouse where the documents for surrender were signed between Union and Confederate troops.
Construction to Grand Opening
The property took shape in February 2011 when workers demolished an old house at the site of the new museum. Then the foundation was laid and the grounds were groomed. In June, the skeleton of the outer walls went up. Bricks and the roof were added six months later.
The grand opening of the museum will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 31. Color guards, re-enactment units and speakers will make presentations. Re-enactors of Lee and Grant will be present as a reunification ceremony will take place. The museum will be free to visitors for the day.
William Browning is a research librarian.
- Jefferson Davis