Today I attended a “soft opening” of a new museum in Caroline County, Virginia. Called the Port Royal Museum of American History, it is located in the heart of Port Royal right off of Route 301 in the former Union First Market Bank building.
The museum contains the extensive collection of Herbert Collins, a former curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, who I have highlighted on this blog before. Herb’s collection of White House china takes up an entire room in the new museum as does his collection of toleware pieces.
The whole museum is decorated with many paintings by Sidney King who was the main painter for the National Parks Service for many years. He created over 180 paintings for the nation’s parks with his most famous being his large Jamestown paintings. Herb Collins was good friends with Sidney King and collected over 30 paintings by him. Upon Mr. King’s death in 2002, Herb gave the eulogy at his funeral.
In addition to these many items from Herb’s collection, which he permanently donated to Historic Port Royal, the museum also holds a large number of Native American artifacts collected by the Skinner family of Caroline County.
The museum is not a large one, really only one main room and two small ones, but it’s collection is a wonderful mix of old and new. Important to the history of Caroline County, the museum also has a few items relating to John Wilkes Booth and his death at the Garrett’s.
The most notable item is a hinge said to be from the barn in which Booth died.
The affidavit that accompanies it is from Sidney King and states the following:
“John Wilkes Booth, an actor and southern sympathizer, shot Lincoln while watching a play at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. Twelve days later he was captured at the Richard H. Garrett estate barn near Bowling Green, VA.
In 1954, the National Park Historian Frances Welshun obtained permission to search the area where the barn once stood. This large wrought iron hinge was found there. The remaining hinges were never found. This hinge was left in my charge and I present this hinge to the Caroline Historical Society as a loan, the 28th of Jan. 1990.
Sidney E. King”
While there is no way to prove its authenticity, it’s still fun to hiope that this hinge could have come off the barn in which Booth died.
The Port Royal Museum of American History won’t have its true grand opening until the spring. When it does open for good, I hope some of you in the area will stop by and show the museum your support. Thanks to the generosity of Herb Collins and the selfless work by the members of Historic Port Royal, the history of Caroline County, Virginia, and the United States as a whole, will continue to be shared.