- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — The city that was the primary Confederate capital now faces losing the Museum of the Confederacy.

Museum officials have discussed moving their collection of Civil War artifacts — the world’s largest — about 140 miles west to Lexington, Va.

“I don’t know if the conversations will go anywhere, but they have started,” said S. Waite Rawls III, the museum’s president and chief executive officer, who visited Lexington this month.

The museum must move to stay viable, and Lexington is one of several locations being considered, said museum spokeswoman Megan Miller. Other potential sites include elsewhere in Richmond and outside the state.

Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson are buried in Lexington, and the city takes pride in its Civil War connections.

“We have said all along that our preference is to be in Richmond,” Mr. Rawls said. “But given Lexington’s historical character … we said, ‘Let’s go up and take a look.’ We are no further along than that.”

Mr. Rawls and other officials toured a possible site in the Shenandoah Valley city: the historic Rockbridge County Courthouse complex. Work is to begin next month on a new courthouse, and the 1897 building is scheduled to be vacant in two years. The complex includes a jail that dates to 1841 and two other buildings.

“With its world-class collection, its library, its exhibits and education programs and the visitors and researchers it draws, we wanted to explore the possibilities of a move by the museum to Lexington,” said Rockbridge County Supervisors Chairman Harvey Hottinger and Lexington Mayor John W. Knapp Sr.

The museum’s current location, next to the White House of the Confederacy, is hemmed in by the sprawling Virginia Commonwealth University medical complex. Annual visitation has dropped from 92,000 to about 51,500 since the early 1990s.

Its space of 43,000 square feet allows display of just 10 percent of the collection of artifacts, manuscripts and photographs, Mrs. Miller said. There is no room to install modern technology that museum visitors have come to expect.

Officials said earlier there are no plans to transfer the museum collection to the White House of the Confederacy.

Lexington City Manager T. Jon Ellestad said discussions with the museum are very preliminary, and officials want to find out the community’s reaction.

It would be a big loss for Richmond if the museum left town, said Jack Berry, president and chief executive officer of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We’d be losing a huge asset,” he said.

Mr. Rawls and Mrs. Miller said they’d want the museum to be in a new home by 2011, the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

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