‘It’s been there forever’: African American Museum of Bucks County finds a home with its own rich history

Boone Farm

Boone Farm, the new location for the African American Museum of Bucks County. (Eugene Sonn/WHYY)

Earlier this month, the African American Museum of Bucks County received approval from both the county and Middletown Township to rent the empty Boone Farm property in Langhorne for $1 per year until 2030.

Once a bustling farmhouse, the property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has historical ties to the Great Migration of the 20th century, during which 6 million African Americans moved out of rural Southern states to Northern areas such as Pennsylvania in search of economic opportunity.

But when Bucks County designated the farm as the new spot for the museum, serendipity was at play: Museum president and executive director Linda Salley said the county had no idea of the farm’s ties to the Great Migration at the time.

Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia “said the building is called Boone Farm. I said, ‘What? What did you say?’ She said, ‘Boone Farm.’ I said, ‘Do you know the story of Boone Farm?’ She says, ‘No, it’s just been there forever.’ I said, ‘Yes, it has. It’s been there forever,’” Salley said.

Salley had met some of the women who came to Bristol to make new lives for themselves by sewing and selling quilts on Boone Farm. She met them while she was volunteering in a sewing circle when she first moved to the county in 2003.

“They started telling me stories about how they arrived here in Bristol, and how they left the South and came North looking for work and wanting a better, safe haven for their children and themselves,” she said. “And so these African Americans moved and they lived in barracks, and they lived in Boone’s Farm.”

Working on the farm allowed them to provide for their families, Salley said.

“They raised their children, and they bought homes, and their children have gone to college and they were happy. But most of them are gone now, and this story lives on,” Salley said. “And what we’re about is telling the story that has never been told.”

Having a brick-and-mortar location will give the museum the ability to host school classes, families, and individuals furthering the museum’s mission to educate the public, Salley said. The new location will allow people from across the country to come learn about the rich Black history of Bucks County, she added.

“Not just in Bucks County, but all over, from all over, from New York, to Delaware, to New Jersey,” she said. “We want to bring them in so they can see and hear the story, because we want to tell the whole story: How they came from Africa to Bucks County.”

Ruben Christie, vice president of the museum, said it’s received requests from teachers across the Delaware Valley to present exhibits in their classrooms.

In the last three tours with the traveling exhibits earlier this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit, he said, the museum was able to share Bucks County’s Black history with over 1,000 students.

“Although not exclusive to the schools, [taking the exhibits on tour] is very much focused on getting the education of our rich history into the public school system,” Christie said.

The museum’s latest exhibit, “Building on the Dream: From Africa to Bucks County,” pays tribute to the contributions of African Americans in the county from their origins in Africa through the 21st century.

The exhibit features a memorial list of African Americans who were registered as slaves in Bucks County in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the role of Bucks County African Methodist Episcopal Churches in helping African Americans transition from slavery to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

The new location will help the museum reach even more students than ever before, Christie said.

“It’s important that we continue to propagate this history and this education into our school systems. Having a physical location will allow us to have people come and visit the exhibits,” he said. “However, I still believe that we’ll continue the traveling and the pop-up portion of it. I think the combination of both is really going to make a powerful impact in our Bucks County community.”

The African American Museum of Bucks County plans on cutting the ribbon on its new location next year. In the meantime, it will continue its touring exhibits across the region.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal