Rick Hiduk Spring 2017
Boalsburg, just 5 miles south of State College in Centre County, doesn’t just lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. Its citizens rally every May to stage a multifaceted Memorial Day weekend celebration that draws thousands of people, which more than triples its modest population of approximately 3,700.
Boalsburg is a destination location any time of the year, serving as the home of the Pennsylvania Military Museum, Boal Mansion and Columbus Chapel, Boalsburg Heritage Museum, and Hill House – all part of the Boalsburg Historic District. But Boalsburg holds nothing back when it comes to celebrating its Memorial Day legacy.
“What we’re trying to do is make it a community event where we have the various museums, local vendors, and fire company involved,” said Memorial Day Town Celebration chairman Jeff Fisher. “Ultimately, we conclude the holiday with a walk to the cemetery to honor those who have served the country.”
Five days of activities will include a fireman’s carnival, an arts and crafts street fair, Civil War re-enactments, museum tours, a car show, a parade, and speeches leading to the mass procession to Boalsburg Cemetery, where bronze statues depict Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers, the three women who decorated soldiers’ graves there in May 1864.
Boalsburg was once a prominent stop on the main road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, so it’s easy to see why it boasts many historic structures and maintains much of its 19th-century charm. Named after the Boal family that settled the region, the village swells with pride and visitors on Memorial Day weekend, with plenty of room and hospitality for everyone.
The Boalsburg Fire Company conducts a carnival at 113 E. Pine St. that will run this year from Thursday through Monday, May 25 to 29. Times are generally 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, with earlier hours on Sunday and Monday. A parade will kick off from the fire company grounds at 5 p.m. on Saturday, providing the stage for the Boalsburg Fire Company to mark its 175th anniversary this year.
The Boal Mansion and Columbus Chapel, located at the intersection of US Route 322 and PA Route 45, will be open throughout the weekend and will host a variety of activities, as will the Boalsburg Heritage Museum at 304 E. Main St.
Boal Mansion museum director Bob Cameron explained, “What we’ve tried to do over the past few years is to be a part of the celebration while also setting us apart from it. Our vendors are more akin to what you’d expect at a museum – experts of the lost arts, such as wood carving, spinning and other traditional skills. People can see how these items were made and have an opportunity to purchase them.”
A full-scale Civil War re-enactment is also held on the museum’s 48 acres each year. An added featured this year will be a costume ball for re-enactors one evening to which the public will be invited.
The museum’s artifacts represent not only the eight generations of the Boals who lived there, but also 500 years of memorabilia associated with Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, whose family was related to the Boals. The family was also friends with 12 sitting presidents as exhibited photos and correspondence attest.
The Boalsburg Heritage Museum, also known as the Sara Sweet House, was built in 1825 as part of the Murray-Mosser Tannery Complex. It was purchased in 1983 by Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Aikens and donated to the Boalbsurg Conservancy to serve as its headquarters. The site features the house, which has been restored to its 1800s splendor, a summer kitchen, a general store, and foundations of additional structures such as a bank barn.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum at 51 Boal Ave. will conduct a Living History World War II Encampment from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 27 and 28. According to museum educator Joe Horvath, highlights of the event will include a combat demonstration, interaction with the re-enactors, and entertainment in the form of a servicemen’s canteen with period music and costumes. The museum will host a car show on Memorial Day.
Ground Zero for Memorial Day itself is an arts and crafts fair, coordinated by the Memorial Day Town Celebration Committee, which will feature more than 40 vendors on Main Street and The Diamond on May 29. Offerings will include ice cream, wine, fudge, kettle corn, handmade items and entertainment, including the State College Jazz Band, a Maypole dance, a German Band, and a performance by local favorites, the Pure Cane Sugar Band.
A foot race is also planned for May 29. For more than 30 years, the Nittany Valley Running Club has organized the Boalsburg Memorial Day Run, a 3.8-mile race through the community’s historic neighborhoods. Find more information at www.nvrun.com.