History

A New Home is in the Works for the African American Museum Of Bucks County

June 4, 2024 | by Keshler Thibert

The future location of the African American Museum of Bucks County at Boone’s Farm. | Photo courtesy of the African American Museum of Bucks County

The barn at Boone Farm’s and the surrounding 32 acres in Middletown Township have been empty for over 50 years. Now, the structure is being renovated and the farm will be the future site of the African American Museum of Bucks County.

In 2020, County commissioners Diane Marselia, Robert Harvie, and Gene DiGirolamo voted to allow the property to be leased to the museum for only a $1 a year for the next 29 years. The vote left the only surviving founder of the museum, Linda Salley, in thrilled disbelief. Salley, along with the other two founders, Millard Mitchell and Harvey Spencer, now deceased, helped create the museum in 2014 as a traveling exhibition. Soon, it will finally have a place to park.

Prior to the news, the museum was a mobile museum operated and maintained by a volunteer staff composed primarily of president and executive director Linda Salley, vice president William H. Reed, Brenda Reed, William Reed, Millicent Brown, Deal Wright, Roger Brown, Susan Lee, Nelson Sarfraz, Don Williford, Alonzo Salley Jr., and Lugenure Jones.

With a fixed location, this group of retired educators, healthcare professionals, executives, and others can offer more educational programming to the residents of Bucks County. The vote, of course, is the first of many more steps to be taken before the museum can officially open its doors to the public.

According to long-time associate Lisa Gage, COVID-related delays and a lack of funds have put a temporary pause on their grand opening. Bucks County has already contributed more than $3 million, which paid for the exterior renovations, flooring, and walls, but $2 million is still needed to complete the work.

A rendering of the renovated facility. | Image courtesy of KMA, Pennoni, and VMA

While planning for an official opening in 2025, the mobile museum continues to provide education and awareness to local schools, businesses, community centers, and individuals interested in learning about the people, places, and stories that highlight a neglected part of Bucks County history. These stories begin with the land named after the last residents of the farm, Chesire Lawton Boone and Grace Rossman Boone. In 1967, Grace Boone, a widow by that time, sold the farm to Bucks County before passing away in 1972 without any descendants.

As highlighted in the book, Boone Farm: It’s People and Place in Middletown History, by Patricia L. Mervine, M.A., former owners have provided snapshots of what transpired during the early days of the Republic. Mervine has a personal attachment to the farm. Her parents lived there as tenants and worked under Grace Boone during the 1950s.

One of the most interesting stories from the book is about a former Quaker, Samuel Kirk, who was read out of the faith due to his choice to not free his enslaved. Another figure of interest is lawyer and tax collector Daniel Martin whose 1790 census records reveals that he owned a slave named John who was five years old at the time. There is another reference to one other free person, which suggests that this other person was possibly a manumissioned (freed) African adult.

Another interesting footnote mentions Louisa Osmond, a white woman of high society who moved onto the farm in 1893 with her husband, Frank. She was a member of Langhorne Sorosis, a women’s social group, who participated in readings of The Negro as a Slave and Women’s Title to Citizenship, which led the way to the growing suffrage movement in the early 20th century.

The volunteers are currently traveling around the county in the mobile museum with its presentation of the Untold Stories and Hidden Figures of Bucks County. The program conjures up the memories of Black Joe Brown of Marblehead, Massachusetts and Oliver Cromwell, both African soldiers who were with George Washington during their fateful crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Night in 1776. Another story is about Big Ben, a formerly enslaved man who was purchased and freed by local Quakers.

Top: Bensalem AME Church, pictured here before renovations and an addition, was organized in 1820 and is one of the oldest African American churches in America. It was established by the Reverend James Miller under the direction of Reverend Richard Allen, the founder of African Methodism. It served as a station on the Underground Railroad.  Bottom: A photo from 1958 shows congregants of Bensalem AME Church, founded as the Free Peoples Church in 1817. It too served as a safe house on the Underground Railroad. | Photos courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress and Yardley Historical Association

Mid-19th century history highlights Lower Bucks County’s role in the Underground Railroad with various sites related to Mother Bethel AME founder Richard Allen. The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Yardley and Bensalem AME Church are only two of the various places that served a role as safe house stations. A 2020 ceremony at Slate Hill Cemetery honored Black veterans of the Civil War who are buried there.

More recently, the traveling museum has been focusing on the Civil Rights era. A specific example is African American couple Daisy and William Myers who were chased out of the Dogwood Hollow area of Levittown by a white mob in 1957. That tale brings to mind the history and origins of the suburban development, primarily populated by white veterans returning from World War II.

The museum keeps these stories engaging and attracts interested individuals and groups from both Bucks County and the surrounding areas with events like A Jazz Tribute to Langston Hughes and virtual education for kindergarteners to 5th graders. Programming highlights a range of stories about Black people who have not only contributed to the social narrative of Bucks County, but complement existing histories of African Americans from Philadelphia and the country as a whole.

All of these stories form the backdrop of what is at the core of the African American Museum of Bucks County and serve to connect it to the community at large. While the public may have to wait an additional year before they can visit the new facility, the museum continues its educational programming. In terms of community engagement, Black History Month and Juneteenth are its most popular seasons. Yet, support staff continue to stay busy throughout the year due to audiences, especially young people, wanting to hear these stories not just because they consist of Black figures, but because they are from Bucks County. 

Once Boone Farm is converted into a museum, the site will serve a dual function of having a permanent exhibit of local heroes as well as rotating exhibitions with docents on hand to help interpret and give context to what is featured. This is in addition to the programming already available as a mobile museum.


For more information about African American Museum of Bucks County’s educational programming and events see its website: https://www.aamuseumbucks.org/



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About the Author

Keshler Thibert is a voracious reader, book collector, tour guide, and current member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, but has also lived in Atlanta, GA, Santiago de Chile, Madrid, Patras, Greece, and Adelaide, South Australia. Thibert has an interest in social sciences, language, and local history. Read more of his work on Substack.

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