The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and the Society of Port Republic Preservationists announced the transfer of the Port Republic Museum and its collections to the National Historic District.
The National Historic District (which is operated by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation) will continue to work with the society, enhancing the district’s ability to preserve and promote the history and culture of Port Republic by combining the SPRP’s local knowledge with NHD’s reach and expertise.
“The Battlefields Foundation is thrilled to be able to help our great friends and partners in Port Republic,” said Keven Walker, CEO of the National Historic District. “The Port Republic Museum is an important site for interpreting the history of the Shenandoah Valley.”
“The transfer helps secure the future of the museum,” said Tamara Gibson, president of the Society of Port Republic Preservationists. “And guarantees the long-term protection of the museum, its artifacts and its archives. Having worked with the Battlefields Foundation for many years, we knew they were the perfect custodians to take responsibility for these assets.
Keven Walked added: “We are delighted that the Society continues to provide much needed local knowledge and support.
The Port Republic Museum is housed in Frank Kemper’s historic home, which was built c. 1835-1845. It served both as a residence and as an inn and tavern for travellers, mainly for river boatmen. During the Civil War, the body of Confederate General Turner Ashby was brought home after he was killed near Harrisonburg on June 6, 1862. The house was also at the center of other Civil War events in and around the village , from Stonewall Jackson Narrows. evading capture (June 8, 1862), the Battle of Port Republic (June 9, 1862), and Union troops marching past and burning woolen mills (June 4, 1864) en route to the Battle of Piedmont. After the war, the house was used for a variety of purposes, including as a tea room and boarding house.
The Society of Port Republic Preservationists purchased the building in 1992 and then converted it into the Port Republic Museum, a museum and visitor center. Since then, the SPRP has worked tirelessly to preserve and interpret the history of the historic river town in the museum. The museum features a remarkable array of artifacts and exceptional exhibits that bring history to life, with exhibits such as the River Room (pre-Civil War era), Turner Ashby Room (Civil War era), the Keeping Room (post-war to present), and the Discovery Room (visitor orientation and research).
The National Historic District has long supported the work of the Society. “We have been fortunate to work with the wonderful people of the Society of Port Republic Preservationists for over 20 years,” said Keven Walker. During this time, the NHD has provided over $48,000 in grants to the SPRP, helping to fund projects such as roadside interpretive signs, a self-guided village tour/map, repairs, and the disability accessibility to the building, an interpretive plan, exhibits, the research and orientation room, and work on the Port Republic Riverside Cemetery.
In recent years, the museum has faced challenges common to most small nonprofit and civic organizations: supporters are aging or moving away; a decreasing number of volunteers with an overwhelming workload; and the Covid pandemic, which forced the museum to close to visitors. Concerned about the future of the museum and the challenges of preserving the property and collections and the possibility of keeping the museum open to the public, they contacted the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District. “Having worked with folks from the Battlefields Foundation [National Historic District] for many years,” said Tamara Gibson, “we believed they were the right organization to safeguard and continue the mission of the museum.
Knowing the value of the museum and its work, the National Historic District agreed to accept the transfer of ownership and its collections. “We were proud and honored that the Society reached out to us, and happy to step in to help protect the museum and its collection,” said Keven Walker. “And we look forward to continuing the outstanding work of the Society. We will continue to tell the full story of Port Republic – not just the Civil War era, but also the rest of its history, establishment and days as a bustling river port through its afterlife. -war until today.
“We have always viewed the museum and the efforts of the Society as invaluable parts of the National Historic District, as evidenced by our investments in grants, staff time and other forms of support over the years,” added Walker. “Now we can bring our greatest resources of people, knowledge and expertise to fulfilling the mission of the museum – and ours.
The National Historic District is currently working on a new schedule and hours of operation for the museum; stay tuned for more details. And the NHD will soon undertake flagship projects for the museum, including updating and renovating the village’s road signs and delivering a mobile phone audio tour (already partly developed by the SPRP).
The audio tour will be part of a series being developed by the NHD, including an already completed tour for Winchester Civil War Sites and a tour being developed for New Market.