Boal Mansion

The Boal Mansion is the ancestral home of one of Centre County’s most distinguished families. Since 1952, it has been operated as a museum.

David Boal, an Irish immigrant who fought in the Revolutionary War, purchased property near present-day Boalsburg in the 1780s and built a small stone home. In 1798, his son, also named David, expanded the home by building a two-story Georgian-style home adjoining the original dwelling.

The younger Boal established a tavern and became a leader in the nearby community that would later be named Boalsburg.

The Boal Mansion has been a museum since 1952. (Happy Valley Adventure Bureau)

The house and property were inherited by successive generations of the Boal family, but few modifications were made to the house until it passed into the hands of Theodore “Terry” Boal in 1898. Boal was an accomplished architect who had spent several years studying in Paris.

After inheriting the home, Boal set to work on a classical-style expansion which added a ballroom to the west, a porch to the north, and a servants’ quarters to the south adjoining the original structure.

In 1909, Boal’s wife, Mathilde, who was from Paris, inherited many of the interior furnishings of the Llamas del Mouro castle in Asturias, Spain, from her aunt, whose husband was a descendant of the explorer Christopher Columbus. Boal constructed a building on the mansion property to house the treasures from the castle’s chapel, which he christened the Columbus Chapel in 1916.

The contents included the chapel door, altar, crucifix, painting, carvings, and vestments, as well as two pieces of the True Cross of Jesus, which were given to the Columbus family in 1817. The chapel treasures are considered the most important Columbus artifacts in North America.

After the outbreak of World War I, Boal sought to prepare for American entry into the war by building a training camp on his estate and training his own machine gun troop in 1916. The troop saw action in General John J. Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa before heading into World War I in 1917.

When the troop returned from the war in 1919, Boal dedicated a memorial on his land to the men of the company who had died. The memorial became known as the 28th Infantry Division National Shrine. The shrine and surrounding 70 acres later were sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission took control of the site in 1957, and the Pennsylvania Military Museum opened in 1968.

In 1952, Theodore and Mathilde’s son, Pierre, established the mansion and family property as a museum. Although he spent much of his life away from Boalsburg, including serving as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, he encouraged the preservation of Boalsburg as a historic district.

After Pierre’s death in 1966, the museum was managed by his grandson, Christopher Lee, until his 2014 arrest for possession of child pornography. A board of directors oversees the mansion and museum. An executive director is responsible for the daily operation.

The mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. For many years, the barn and silo on the property have been the home of summer theater groups. A taproom and beer garden is under construction on the mansion property.

Alex Schmidt


Sources:

Linn, John Blair. History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1883.

Mitchell, J. Thomas. July 1953. “The Boal Family and Its Accomplishments.” Pennsylvania History 20 (3): 280-283.

National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Boal Mansion, 1978.

Historic Buildings of Centre County Pennsylvania. The Historic Registration Project of Centre County Library. Gregory Ramsey, Coordinator. University Park: Keystone Books, 1980.

Columbus Chapel and Boal Museum, www.boalmuseum.com (Accessed September 5, 2022).


First Published: October 25, 2022

Last Modified: October 31, 2022