The Port Royal Museum of American History

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “The Port Royal Museum of American History

  1. J. Beckert

    That’s neat, Dave. I think if the hinge was found at the exact site of the barn, the provenance should be pretty cut and dried. More neat stuff. Thanks.

    • My only problem with it Joe, is that the Garretts built a new barn on the site of the old one. Assumedly this barn also caved in and fell like the house after the family sold the property. So this hinge could be from the Garrett’s “new” barn.

  2. J. Beckert

    I didn’t remember Edwin Booth sent them money to rebuild the barn. Good point.

    • Joe,

      That is an idea that I have found no source for as of yet. I have contacted a few Edwin Booth experts, Nora Titone and The Players among them, and so far I can find no evidence that Edwin Booth ever gave the Garretts any money for their loss. Stanley Kimmel has this idea in the Mad Booths of Maryland and Ruggles includes it in The Prince of Players, but neither of them give a source for it. In the 1880’s there was some corespondence between Edwin Booth and Rev. Richard Baynham Garrett who was 12 when Booth died. Edwin gave Rev. Garrett a gift of books for the return of a lock of Wilkes’ hair. This is the only documented interaction I have found between Edwin and the Garretts. Come to the Surratt Conference in March to learn more.

  3. Gene C

    Dave, I love your blog, but sometimes it’s a little hard to read against the wooden plank backgroung. Thanks for the photo’s and telling us of your musuem visit. For those of us who live far away, we may never get the opportunity or time to visit it.

    • Gene,

      I’m thinking that the blog must not be loading properly on your computer for some reason. There should be a white-ish background between the text and the wood backdrop:

      It has shown up like this on every computer I have ever used…hmmm…

  4. Laurie Verge

    Many long years ago, there was a tiny museum in the old jail at Bowling Green. One of the items was a so-called “self-portrait” of John Wilkes Booth. No one could ever tell us the provenance for it. If I remember correctly (and we’re talking at least thirty years ago), it looked very much like the one shown to the left of the hinge. Does Herb Collins know if that is the same drawing? Is the one shown here a photo or a drawing?

  5. Jim Garrett

    Hi Laurie:m mThe self portrait is a watercolor painted over the image (Guttman #20). Herb purchased it in the late 1950’s or early 60s out of a large collection in Ohio, Recently Herb has become somewhat suspect. It is however, an interesting piece.

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