In 1864, a group of women went to a cemetery in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, to honor their relatives that had died during the still-ongoing Civil War. After laying flowers on the graves, they agreed to come back the next year to commemorate all of the town’s lost Civil War soldiers. This small act was, according to local belief, the first celebration of what would become Memorial Day.
Fifty years later, in the lead up to World War I, local resident Theodore Davis Boal put together his own calvary unit in preparation for the war in Europe. Known as the Boal Troop, these soldiers would go to Europe in 1917 and return from the war in 1919. Looking for a way to honor their fallen comrades, they set up a shrine on property donated by Boal directly across the street from his home.
Known as the 28th Infantry Division Shrine, the site was expanded over the years by other units in the division before being purchased by the state in 1931. While it took another 38 years, the site became home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum in 1969.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum covers the history of Pennsylvanian military service from the earliest conflicts in American history through the present day. However, the museum focuses primarily on the conflicts of the 20th century. Within this, the museum focuses on three areas: Pennsylvanian soldiers, life in Pennsylvania during the world wars, and how the state’s industry has helped the military.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum is fairly small, with just a few large rooms of indoor displays for visitors to check out. However, the quality of the artifacts on display and the information presented make up for the museum being a bit smaller than you might anticipate.
The museum was renovated between 2003 and 2005, and the quality of the exhibits really shows in the museum’s first exhibit. Where there once was a World War I trench that wasn’t very authentic, there is now ample space to showcase the many large guns, vehicles, and tanks in the room. For those that miss the trench experience, there is a small recreation at the beginning of the museum, but it is no longer the focus of the room.
The items in this room are primarily from the world wars and give a great overview of how technology changed throughout the wars. Each display features information on the item and the chance to see these pieces of historical equipment up close.
The museum’s second display area features primarily smaller items behind glass cases. Here, many weapons used during the wars are on display, as well as uniforms and other day-to-day supplies used by troops from Pennsylvania.
Inside the museum’s third and final room, a handful of military vehicles sit alongside information on how they were used by the military during the war. This room definitely offers something for both those interested in military history and those who love antique automobiles.
Outside the Pennsylvania Military Museum, there are several tanks and large guns that visitors can explore, whether they opt to tour the inside of the museum or not. The tanks on display were used primarily during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. They showcase how tanks changed over the years and how their function affected their exterior appearance. Also outside the museum are several large guns, including the 14-inch guns from the USS Pennsylvania, which saw battle during World War II.
The grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum also feature the 28th Infantry Division Shrine, which was the original memorial on the grounds. It primarily honors the soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division that died during World War I, though sections have been added to honor soldiers from the divisions that died in World War II.
The grounds of the museum are also home to many great events, ranging from craft shows to military reenactments. Visiting during one of these events can offer a unique look at military history and really add to the experience of visiting the museum.
While the museum itself is not large, the quality of the displays makes it worth checking out. For those with just a passing interest in the museum, taking the time to visit the outdoor displays and the shrine is a great way to get a taste of what the museum has to offer.
For those not super interested in military history, a visit to the museum might not be worth a long drive by itself. However, combining a visit to the Pennsylvania Military Museum with a stop at the Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion directly across the street or one of the many other great things to do in and around State College can provide an exciting day in Centre County, PA.
Note: My visit to the Pennsylvania Military Museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Pennsylvania Military Museum
Hours: Thursday-Saturday: 10am-3pm
Cost: Adults: $6, Children: $4
Address: 235 Old Boalsburg Rd