Pennsylvania Military Museum

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg preserves the state’s military history and honors the soldiers from all branches of the United States armed services.

The museum opened in 1968 on the grounds of the 28th Infantry Division Shrine established by prominent Boalsburg resident, Theodore Boal. It is operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Shortly before World War I began, Boal funded a private horse-mounted machine gun company to serve with the Pennsylvania National Guard.  The troop practiced on the grounds of the wealthy man’s estate in Boalsburg, which became known as “Camp Boal.” Many of these guardsmen were students, faculty, and employees of the nearby Pennsylvania State University.  

Boal’s troops first saw action in 1916 when the National Guard was called up to respond to the crises at the Mexican border after Pancho Villa raided several U.S. border towns. This was the first time in U.S. history that the National Guard integrated with active-duty troops.

Soon after, Boal’s company was sent to France when the U.S. became involved in World War I. (In preparation for their overseas involvement, Boal had a huge trench built for training purposes. That trench was located where state Route 322 runs today, in front of the Military Museum grounds.) Boal and the Boalsburg machine-gun troop, composed of 172 men, saw a great deal of action during the war, including the bloody battle of the Argonne Forest, where the company suffered many fatalities.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum incorporates memorials from the 28th Infantry Division Shrine with monuments honoring soldiers and sailors from more recent wars. (Photograph by Will Yurman)

When the troop returned from the war in 1919, Boal dedicated a memorial on his land to the men of the company who died.  This memorial was known as the 28th Infantry Division National Shrine.  A building was also constructed where the Officer’s Society of the 28th Division could meet. For years after the war, the society met and dedicated new memorials on the grounds.

Boal brought back relics and weapons from the war and stored them in the society’s building in hopes of one day building a museum on the grounds. However, as the Great Depression gripped the country, Boal lost most of his wealth. The 70 acres of his land that included the 28th Division shrine was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1931.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission took control of the site in 1957 and plans for the Pennsylvania Military Museum began. Construction started in 1967. The new museum building was situated looking over the original training and parade grounds for Boal’s company.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum tells the story of Pennsylvania’s citizen soldiers from all branches of the armed services in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The museum holds more than 10,000 items in its archives and has permanent and rotating displays. It also houses an on-site research library.  Programs and lectures are held regularly.

The museum was extensively renovated starting in 2003. One of the more striking features of the renovation is the large and colorful “Wall of Honors” ribbons on the museum’s façade. They represent the military service ribbons award to the commonwealth’s veterans in the last century.

Since the original shrine was dedicated in 1919, thirty monuments and exterior displays have been added to the museum’s property. They include two large guns that were on the USS Pennsylvania, a battleship that was decommissioned in 1946.

Although Boal died in 1936, his desire to honor the military, especially those serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard, continues with the grounds of the military museum continuing to add monuments to the fallen. And every May, on the Sunday before Memorial Day weekend, the Pennsylvania National Guard holds a service on the grounds in front of the original shrine to honor those who have died while serving.

Cathy Horner


Sources:  

Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1989

Pennsylvania National Guard Magazine, July 2016

Pennsylvania Military Museum. https://www.pamilmuseum.org (Accessed June 27, 2021).


First Published: July 22, 2021

Last Modified: August 23, 2021