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Museum Shuffles for New Look

Til Bennie finally gets her shop back.

Those are the words of Loudoun Museum director Douglas Foard about the museum shop’s move to the historic log cabin next door. The shop is expected to reopen at its former 10-year home on April 5, the date of the First Friday Gallery Walk in downtown Leesburg.

“It will increase traffic into the shop, which is good for the bottom line. People really want to see the log cabin,” said Bennie, manager of the Loudoun Museum Shop. “It has so much more charm – beams in the ceiling, a fireplace and a magnificent wooden floor.”

The move of the shop is one of several reshufflings happening at the Leesburg-based museum approved by the museum’s board of directors at the Feb. 13 board meeting. The space for exhibits, collections and offices will be reconfigured as the museum begins the process of seeking accreditation from the American Association of Museums for the 35-year-old building. The association requires long-term planning and a properly stored and catalogued collection that meets the museum’s mission.

A few changes will be made at the museum in the meantime. The front-street space for the shop will become the main entrance, remodeled as a visitor’s orientation area with front desk, brochures and, most likely, seating. The reception’s area in what is now the lobby will be removed, opening up the exhibit space by a few feet. The changes will be made once the courthouse bell on loan to the museum is returned to the Courts Complex. The bell will be kept in the lobby until remodeling of the complex is finished, expected next year.

THE UPSTAIRS SECTION of the museum will be blocked off to visitors now that the last exhibit was taken down last week. “The Terrible Swift Sword: Loudoun County’s Civil War” was a one-year display that showed artifacts, photographs and maps of the Civil War in Loudoun County. Another Civil War exhibit, “The Road to Antietam Creek: The Invasion of Maryland, 1862,” will be located downstairs in half of the space for the film room. The exhibit, which opens June 23, also will continue for one year to tell the story of the 1862 Confederate invasion of Maryland through the use of artifacts, maps and uniforms, formally called costumes as are all clothing items in a museum. The exhibit celebrates the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

“We’re going to have more frequent rotating galleries,” said Randy Davis, museum curator.

Other exhibits planned for the museum include the history of Carolina Road, or Route 14, the development of Loudoun County and the African colonization movement, featuring the Lucas-Heaton letters from former Loudoun County slaves to their previous slave owners after they were freed.

The space in the upstairs exhibit room will house the items not on display, now stored in the office area in the next room. The American Association of Museums deemed the office area inadequate for storing artifacts in the collection and will not accredit the museum until the artifacts are safeguarded against light and air. The windows in the exhibit area, which will provide more storage space than the offices, will be sealed and covered, the carpeting removed and the entrances blocked to provide climate control.

“It’s going to make us more of a professional institute, because we’re putting our collection first,” Davis said. “We’re seeing to the needs of our artifacts.”

Removing the collection will allow the office area to be expanded. The staff will be able to work in larger offices that are kept in one area, instead of being divided between the museum building and the log cabin next door.

“We’re going to have office cubicles, so it will be a more professional work space,” Davis said.

THE MUSEUM SHOP office will remain in the 220-year-old log cabin, now used for storage and meeting space. Bennie said she has to walk back and forth between the two buildings 30 times a day to get her work done. Her other concern is the fact business at the museum shop declined since the move.

“All the customers and crafters want us to move back because it’s so charming in there,” Bennie said.

The museum originally moved the gift shop to the main building with plans to exhibit a silversmithing display in the log cabin, the site of a silversmith shop established in 1767. The museum lacked the proper artifacts and implements to finish the display and dropped the project.

Even so, the museum shop did not move back to the cabin until the town of Leesburg requested the cabin open to the public as part of its consideration of the museum’s new lease. The current two-year lease ended in February. The request for a new lease, 30 years with a 99-year extension, awaits a resolution vote from the town council.

“You can’t raise money for a new building if you’re here for two years,” said Foard in reference to the museum’s plans to remodel and expand the building by another 14,000 square feet according to the 1999 design of a Falls Church architect. The design was shelved when the town did not provide an extended lease in 2000.

“We gave evidence to the town we were very interested in helping … tourism in Leesburg,” Foard said, adding that the expanded museum will attract visitors to Leesburg.

The log cabin will be a source of that attraction.

“People come to the cabin first naturally. They come and open the door and look. It’s a natural place for a shop,” Foard said.

The log cabin is another 150 square feet in size than the 235-square-foot shop space in the main building. The larger space will allow the shop to offer more items for sale, including copies of photographs and posters in the museum and hand-crafted replicas of some of the artifacts.

The museum aims to complete the reshuffling by mid-April.