- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - It started as an idea for another local Civil War museum, but organizers are about halfway through planning and construction on a museum commemorating not the war, but the National Road - the first federally funded highway in the nation.

The museum will tell the story of the road from its development as a trail through its evolution as a highway today, according to National Road Heritage Foundation board members George Messner and Richard Keesecker.

They hope to open it in late 2017.

When the project began in 2013, “it was going to be a Civil War museum along with transportation,” Keesecker said.

They met with George Wunderlich, former executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, for advice.

“He said: ‘If you’re going to have a museum, you have to have a story,’” Keesecker said - and the Civil War story was already being told.

But the story of the National Road was relatively untapped.

“We decided to take the idea and run with it,” he said.

The board devised a five-phase plan for opening the National Road Museum, raising funds through grants and donations for each.

“Every step has been deliberate,” said Keesecker, who is vice president of the group.

Two years later, organizers are half done with development of the museum.

They’ve acquired a building, the former Warrenfeltz Hardware store on Main Street.

And the first three phases - restoring the building’s exterior, demolishing the interior and rehabilitating the inside - have been completed with the aid of grants from the Nora Roberts Foundation and the town of Boonsboro, and matching grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

They are now raising money to produce exhibits and started gathering artifacts from the road’s history. They are also thinking ahead to the last phase - opening the museum - and beyond.

The foundation recently created an endowment fund through the Community Foundation of Washington County to help provide annual funding to operate both the National Road Museum and the Trolley Station Museum next door. The National Road Heritage Foundation will run both facilities.

The National Road - now more often known as U.S. 40 in some areas and Alternate 40 in others - runs through six states.

But Messner and Keesecker said that while other museums include National Road exhibits, this is the only one that they are aware of that will be solely dedicated to the road.

And there’s plenty of material to draw from. Their researcher compiled 800 pages of information on the road’s history, they said.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.-based Interpretive Direction, run by former National Park Service interpretive designer David Guiney, has produced a plan for the museum’s exhibits.

Concepts for exhibits include commerce and transportation, “pike towns,” or the towns that evolved along the “National Pike,” landmarks along the road and the personalities who contributed to its history.

And, of course, the Civil War, and how the National Road contributed to the logistics of troop movement, supply routes and the evacuation of wounded soldiers.

Messner said that Boonsboro’s Main Street is the perfect place for the museum. Five state arteries connect in Boonsboro, and it is fairly central to the Maryland portion of the road, he said.

Keesecker noted that the building is “right on the National Road.” Main Street in Boonsboro is, after all, Alternate 40 - the Old National Pike.

With its proximity to nearby Civil War battlefields, Keesecker predicted the museum could only add to Boonsboro’s tourism draw.

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Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com

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