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Museum likely to move Civil War artifacts out of Richmond

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Posted: September 5, 2007 6:08 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    RICHMOND, Va. — Fewer people are coming to the Museum of the Confederacy, so the museum may be taking its artifacts to the people.
    Museum officials said Wednesday that they are exploring the idea of spreading the bulk of the world’s largest collection of Civil War artifacts among three sites outside the former Confederate capital while continuing to maintain a presence in Richmond.
    Two likely locations are the Appomattox Court House National Park and the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center near Fredericksburg, museum president and CEO S. Waite Rawls III said. The third site has not been determined.
    Rawls said the plan would establish a museum ‘‘system’’ that would better serve the mission of educating the public about the Civil War through exhibits and research.
    ‘‘This is a major league grand slam home run from that point of view,’’ Rawls said.
    The museum’s attendance woes were the catalyst for the proposal, he said. Visitation has fallen from about 92,000 in the early 1990s to 44,000 last year.
    ‘‘But for the declining attendance, we’d prefer to stay on the historic site,’’ Rawls said.
    The White House of the Confederacy, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived during the Civil War, will continue to operate at the site. Also, the museum would keep its offices, artifact storage, library and research center in the current location.
    Rawls attributed the lagging attendance to encroaching development of Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical campus.
    ‘It’s just too hard for the visitor to get here,’’ Rawls said. ‘‘I wish visitors had more perseverance than they do, but if you make it hard for them they will go somewhere easier for them.’’
    Appomattox and Chancellorsville would be easier. Both sites already draw tens of thousands of visitors annually, providing a ready audience for artifacts that would largely be related to those attractions.
    Chancellorsville was the site of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory, and Appomattox is the site where Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant two years later.
    Rawls said officials in those two localities are excited about the economic development potential of the proposed new museum sites.
    ‘‘The relocation would substantially increase visitation, extend the visitor’s stay in our area, and result in a tremendous, positive economic impact for Appomattox,’’ said state Del. Watkins M. Abbitt Jr., I-Appomattox.
    Rawls said the plans would require the museum to raise about $15 million from public and private sources over the next five years. The goal is to complete construction of the new facilities by the Civil War’s sesquicentennial in 2011.
    Museum officials want to gauge public reaction and gain confidence in the financial feasibility before giving final approval to the plan, Rawls said.
    ‘‘It’s looking real good so far,’’ he said.

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