In one sense, I don’t even understand why there is a Bucks County Civil War Museum. After all, the closest fighting of the war was in Gettysburg, nearly 150 miles away. However, despite this fact, the Bucks County Civil War Library and Museum is a great place to visit for those interested in the conflict.
The Bucks County Civil War Museum and Library is located in an early 19th century stone home on the outskirts of downtown Doylestown. The home’s tan exterior would be unremarkable, save for the half-dozen flags scattered around the front of the home. However, inside, the museum is much more remarkable.
Despite being in such an old home, the tour doesn’t touch at all on the home’s history, instead focusing on the museum’s great collection of memorabilia.
Stepping into the home, I was greeted by an older gentleman in a Civil War uniform. He introduced himself as Lieutenant Edwin Fretz, a Union soldier from the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a regiment comprised mostly of soldiers from Doylestown. His immaculately reproduced uniform and demeanor might even leave you convinced you had seen a ghost, if he wasn’t a few years older than your average soldier.
However, while Lt. Fretz might have died over 100 years ago, the man who plays him, Dick Neddenriep, is very much alive and a great guide through the museum.
Tours of the museum start from the home’s parlor and gift shop. However, there are several interesting pieces in these rooms that your guide is sure to point out, such as artifacts from the 104th regiment. The items in these rooms are the type that you might expect to find in a local historical society museum, such as patches and other small things used and found by local troops during the Civil War.
Moving into the first room of the museum, there is a great assortment of Civil War items. The first to likely catch your eye is an original Union uniform from the war. Typically, this type of item is behind glass, so to see it up close is really quite interesting and special.
There are hundreds of other pieces in the room ranging from reproduction guns to a pair of sharpshooter glasses. The pieces that the guides point out vary based on your interests and their preferences as there are too many pieces in the museum to talk about each one individually. However, there are several pieces that you should ask your guide about if they don’t bring them up.
The first, is a music box and inkwell that belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln. How this box got from Mrs. Lincoln to the museum is a bit of a mystery, but they have authenticated the box as belonging to her while in the White House.
Another interesting piece in the room is the Indian headdress in the corner of the room. The items date from the time period of the Civil War and belonged to the grandfather of a museum member. While these items weren’t specifically used in the war, the tribe that they come from was involved in several battles along the southwestern edges of the war.
Also interesting in this downstairs room are the prisoner of war shackles, slave irons from Atlanta, and the authentic mourning ribbons worn by citizens after Lincoln’s death.
Moving upstairs, you can’t miss the large Confederate flag directly in front of you. This flag was captured in battle near Shreveport, Louisiana. Even more interesting, the dark stains you notice throughout the flag are the blood of Confederate soldiers who died trying to protect the flag from capture.
This upstairs room is also home to the Bucks County Civil War Library. This library has a very large collection of books about the war, which makes this a great destination for anyone researching subjects related to the Civil War. The room also has several Civil War-era dresses, which does a nice job of showcasing the fashion of the period.
Another interesting piece is a muster roll from the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers. This roll dates from when they were based in Charleston, South Carolina, and protecting Fort Sumter after capturing it back from the Confederates in 1865. The muster roll was vital to daily life in the military and showed information about each solider in the regiment, including when they entered service and how much they were paid. This is definitely an invaluable piece of history, especially for those with an interest in the 104th.
The museum itself only occupies five rooms of the home, counting the parlor and gift shop area. Despite its small size, the museum does have a nice collection of pieces that span a great range of interests related to the Civil War.
If I had one criticism of the museum, it would be that the collection seems a bit hodgepodge, with Indian artifacts sitting next to leg shackles and music boxes. Because of this, tours of the museum are all over the place, providing a bit of information on a large number of subjects, but little detailed information. However, the uniqueness of the pieces in the museum’s collection do make up for this.
While the museum might be a bit all over the place when it comes to their collection, there is enough cool stuff that almost everyone should be able to find a few fascinating items. And, while the collection might not be as organized as you would expect from most museums, including the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, the well-detailed tours and the costumed guides make the Bucks County Civil War Museum and Library a great place for any lover of local history or the Civil War to visit.
So, if you find yourself in Bucks County (which you should because it’s awesome), and you enjoy history, the Civil War, or just quirky museums, take an hour and visit the Bucks County Civil War Museum and Library.
Note: My visit to the Bucks County Civil War Museum and Library was hosted by Visit Bucks County. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Bucks County Civil War Museum
Hours: Saturdays: 10:30am-2pm
Address: 32 North Broad Street
1 thought on “Learning About Local and National History at the Bucks County Civil War Museum”
Sometimes the best kept secrets are in places you would not expect – you can never judge a book by its cover! Much of PA history is freckled across the entire state and it does not surprise me that Bucks County would have a Civil War Museum – brave men who fought the war came from all across PA – I am sure there are Civil War artifacts in many historical societies and little museums – that’s what makes PA history so grand and continually inviting! There is so much to experience.
Unfortunately, many little museums have “scattered” collections – most are not funded to operate with full-time staff or have consistent funds coming in which could support even seasonal staff – so many places have hard working volunteers who can only do so much. This is where local colleges and universities can support – internship and independent or community–based studies programs can help staff poisitions with eager and willing students passionate about PA history. Basic cataloging and inventory of collections from students studying history or museum studies (or other) can be a great start to helping museums and historical societies successfully preserve their collections for future generations.