VIENNA, Va ., December 18, 2013 — After weeks of rumors, gossip and discussion, the Museum of the Confederacy (MOC) has made a formal announcement that they will leave their long-term premises on Clay Street in Richmond, Virginia for a new location on the banks of the James River on the historic site of Tredegar Iron Works.
MOC President Waite Rawls has fielded accusations and various unpleasantries from the public for the last few weeks, and already social media and web lists are expressing their displeasure.
The MOC will join forces with the American Civil War Center (ACWC) with the intent of creating a new Civil War Museum, which will embody the largest collection of artifacts, flags, papers and other items in the country. The ACWC is headed by President Christy Coleman. She and Rawls will serve as co-CEOs of the new entity which has yet to be named.
The MOC has been totally landlocked over the past 10 years through the encroachment of the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), which has made it increasingly inaccessible to visitors while providing no space for the museum to grow. Lacking space for its massive holdings, the MOC first opened a satellite museum in Appomattox, Virginia, and two more were anticipated to open in other areas of the state.
Then, behind closed doors and with more secrecy than many people thought was proper, the MOC and ACWC began negotiations for a plan that would benefit both organizations and enhance the James River site.
There were serious concerns. Moving from their long time home in downtown Richmond made the MOC feel their whole identity was being savaged. The idea of moving to a new site and being “just another museum” or entity out of many was not a popular notion.
Some arguments were both rancorous and slightly ridiculous. There is a statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad sitting on a park bench at the Tredegar site, and “the very idea” of these two individuals being situated in any proximity to the MOC was regarded by some as beyond belief.
The statue in question came about because the fund-raising body that supported it did so without any idea as to where it was going to be erected and found no one who thought it belonged anywhere. Sculptor David Frech of Newburgh, New York, was commissioned by The United States Historical Society of Richmond to commemorate the historic arrival of President Lincoln and Tad and their tour of the partially burnt-out, Union-captured Richmond on Tuesday, April 4, 1865, one month after the President’s Second Inaugural Address and 10 days before his assassination.
Its present location was simply the only folks who decided to give it a home could come up with, a classic case of the the cart having been placed ahead of the horse.
The notion of making the new site a premier, pre-eminent spot in the country for Civil War holdings failed to take other areas and and long-existing groups into account.
On the good side of the ledger, rather than trying to continue with their satellite plan ideas, this gives the MOC a “place to be,” and bring an immediate end to a longstanding problem caused by the constant incursion of MCV’s ongoing expansion plans.
At heart, the basic problem with the MOC as well as the memorial building owned and built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy—equally land-locked by an adjoining museum which even took the UDC’s parking lot for expansion—has been the practice of many of these organizations to agree to a “footprint of the building” ownership of land. When they begin life locked into a small space, the expansion possibility is a lost cause ab initio.
This new organization on the James River will embark on a $30 million project, of which $20 million has already been committed. Not content with this beginning association, there are ongoing discussions with the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) which will attempt to preserve and digitize all of the paper archival matters, such a letters, diaries, books and photographs of the MOC. VHS has always been a stellar entity with extremely good archival capabilities, and it is hoped these will go far in an effort to preserve these records and artifacts for all time.
If all that were not sufficient, the National Park Service’s (NPS‘) Richmond Visitor Center, also has a presence in the new location. The banks of the James River may never be the same.
In the meantime, it is hoped that the various historical groups and their holdings will adopt a “live and let live” attitude which could well be of benefit to all three (or four or five.)
Time will tell the story.