Destination profiles museums and historic sites in Pennsylvania.

With its new facade emblazoned with enormous military service ribbons in brilliant colors, the Pennsylvania Military Museum no longer melds innocuously into the picturesque Centre County countryside at Boalsburg. In fact, the building’s expanded exterior is eye-catching, beckoning travelers on Business Route 322 to stop and visit the popular attraction along the Pennsylvania Trail of History® administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).

Closed for three years for expansion and extensive upgrading of its facilities, the Pennsylvania Military Museum recently reopened – “literally bigger and better than ever,” says site administrator William J. Leech – with state of the art interior environmental systems and redesigned galleries. “We can now give visitors a world-class introduction to the various roles that Pennsylvania – and her citizen – soldiers-played in major conflicts, particularly those of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

The Pennsylvania Military Museum celebrates the contributions of the Keystone State’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in defending both state and nation. Exhibits highlight military accouterments, uniforms, equipment, vehicles, firearms, photographs, and medals, which trace the Commonwealth’s military history through the twentieth century. Interpretive exhibits concentrate on individual Pennsylvanians and the roles they played in various wars and conflicts. During World War II, several top military commanders were Pennsylvanians – General George C. Marshall (Uniontown, Fayette County), chief of staff of the Army, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold (Gladwyne, Montgomery County), commander of the Army Air Corps, and Harold R. Stark (Wilkes­Barre, Luzerne County), who directed all naval operations in European waters- ­but the museum also commemorates the courage and sacrifices of the Keystone State’s “ordinary” soldiers and sailors.

An interim exhibit installed by the museum focuses on the tactics and logistics of modern warfare. Before the opening of the twentieth century, armies were horse drawn and soldiers needed to actually see the enemy to engage in battle. Technological innovations in firearms during the second half of the nineteenth century improved the accuracy and lethality of weapons. Such technological advancements required that the traditional tactics of moving soldiers on the battlefield needed to change. No longer were massed formations of troops – such as those assembled during the American Civil War – used for ground tactics. The same held true for artillery. By World War I, the military measured artillery distances in miles – not yards. Armored protection, recalling the days of medieval knights, returned to the battlefield after a hiatus of several centuries: the combat helmet, tank, and armored car debuted on the Western Front of Europe in the war. Innovations in the air and on the sea progressed as well.

The first phase of the interim exhibit, “Combat Arms,” leads visitors along a reproduction of trench works that existed between 1914 and 1918, where they learn the differences between direct and indirect fire from muzzle-loading artillery pieces and the trench mortars of the First World War. Interpretive signage details the three elements of a tactical army in the field during the twentieth century: artillery, armor, and infantry. As work progresses on exhibition installation, visitors will soon be able to see displays interpreting the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force. Museum educator Joseph Horvath describes the museum as “a work in progress,” noting that “each visit brings a new experience for visitors.”

Before touring the exhibit galleries, visitors are treated to a film which places the Commonwealth’s role in military engagements in context. Using stunning historical and contemporary footage, the film introduces viewers to the various engagements in which Pennsylvanians took part.

Barbara Franco, PHMC executive director, who took part in the grand reopening ceremonies this summer, noted that completion of the project has returned a popular stop on the Trail of History for visitors of all ages to enjoy. “The Pennsylvania Military Museum is important for its role in interpreting our contributions to defending democracy and our homeland,” Franco said recently, adding “it also contributes to heritage tourism and economic development initiatives in central Pennsylvania. Boalsburg is rich in history and heritage, and various partnerships work hard all through the year to promote museums and special events in the region.”

The museum closed in fall 2002 for a general overhaul of mechanical systems, especially for the monitoring and adjustment of temperature and humidity levels, which can ultimately destroy artifacts, especially textiles such as woolen uniforms, cotton flags, and silk ribbons. Erected in 1968 as a visitor center with temporary displays, the building lacked air conditioning. Moreover, exhibitions needed extensive revisions to make them more relevant and insightful for today’s museum-goers. The renovation also resulted in expanded office space, a new staff library, and secure, climate-controlled storage areas.

The building’s original facade, built to resemble a bunker, had outlived its design which gave architects an unusual – and welcome -­ opportunity to, as Leech says, “pull out all the stops.”

Visitors to the Pennsylvania Military Museum can examine a number of unusual artifacts and objects, among them a Bantam Reconnaissance Vehicle (manufactured in Butler), wartime posters, cannon, and tanks. Exhibits are augmented by vintage photographs, drawings, maps, and sketches. The museum’s grounds include the 28th Infantry Division National Shrine that honors Pennsylvania National Guard and militia units dating to the American Revolution.

Located across Route 322 from the museum is the Boal Mansion Museum and Christopher Columbus Chapel (, home to Theodore Davis “Terry” Boal who outfitted his own machine gun troop during World War I. The troop trained at Camp Boal, now the site of the Pennsylvania Military Museum and the 28th Infantry Division Shrine.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum is located on South Atherton Avenue (Business Route 322) in Boalsburg, Centre County, five miles east of State College and ninety miles west of Harrisburg. Boalsburg, noted for its quaint village square and charming shops and restaurants, is located twenty miles south of Interstate 80. To plan your visit, telephone (814) 466-6263.