After being closed since 2009, the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent has completed its renovations with a tremendously more contemporary atmosphere.
The renovations required approximately $5.8 million in funds. There was a time when the museum was funded completely by the city of Philadelphia, Museum Director Charles Croce said. However, now only 20 percent of the funds come from the city. The rest were donated by people and corporations who supported the cause.
Anyone familiar with the museum’s former condition will be taken aback by the modifications made to the building itself. A front desk made from reclaimed wood from Independence Hall greets guests upon arrival. Fresh paint, redone electricity and plumbing, an increase in space, and a newly climate-controlled environment just scratch the surface of the freshened amenities. One of the most notable improvements would be the elevator – a tool the museum did not have before.
Only about 10 percent of the museum’s more than 100,000 objects could be shown at a time with the old setup, Croce said. Many more objects, both “ordinary and extraordinary, the public and the private,” can now be unveiled and rotated with the building’s newfound space and flexibility.
“Our hope is to show as much as possible,” Croce said.
Elements of Philly’s past and present are blended in an appealing and dynamic way in the galleries – with history spanning from 1680 to now. One moment, you may be gazing upon George Washington’s desk or William Penn’s wampum belt, the next, buttons in support of the relatively current Occupy Philly movement.
Not only has the museum updated, but it has changed how objects are viewed.
“We’re not telling you what to look at,” Croce said.
Instead of being crowded by lengthy descriptions, iPads are installed throughout the galleries so that a visitor can pick and choose which objects they’d like to know more about, resulting in a much more personal and tailored way of digesting information.
Correction: The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent is located at 15 South 7th Street. It is free & open to the public Wednesday–Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Samantha Stough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.