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LATEST FEATURE____________________________________

Discover a Bit of Columbus in Pennsylvania
by Bob Brooke

 

The State of Pennsylvania seems like the least likely spot where you’d find memorabilia from Christopher Columbus, the Italian sea captain who has long been believed as the man who discovered the New World. While new findings dispute that claim, Columbus nevertheless did foster further exploration of the Americas which led to the many cultures present in them today.

But what does Columbus have to do with Pennsylvania? Believe it or not, not much, except that tucked away in the little town of Boalsburg, nearly hidden by a large cemetery, is the Boal family estate. Here in a small stone building lie the contents of Columbus’ personal chapel, brought all the way from Spain in 1909 by Theodore “Terry” Davis Boal, the great grandson of David Boal, the first resident of the property.

The Boal estate has been the Boal family home for over 200 years and tells the story of America as seen through one family. The original buildings, furnishings, and family belongings are all still there.



The only way to see the interior of the mansion and chapel is on a tour which includes the first floor of the Boal Mansion, as well as the Columbus Chapel. There are also three exhibit rooms filled with centuries-old weapons and a stage coach from 1850.

The Boal Mansion
The Mansion is in need of repair. The grass and weeds grow high around the entrance to the porch. But the elegant Georgian lines of the home’s exterior show its age. All is quiet now, for the last Boal family member has died, leaving the mansion to tell the story of this once prominent family.

It’s a warm September afternoon. The sunlight creates a dappled effect on the lawns as it filters through the trees. The house is a sprawling affair, built like topsy over the years. It’s pale blue and white exterior standing out from the surrounding landscape. To the casual onlooker, it appears abandoned, but inside are where the treasures lie.

David Boal, the property's original resident, build a simple one-and-a-half story stone cabin in 1809. A short time later, it became the kitchen and adjoining hall in the larger two-story, stone house built in the Georgian style. A later generation of the Boal family expanded the house again, adding two additional bays to the facade between 1898 and 1905, and introduced some Beaux-Arts details to it.

But it was Theodore Davis Boal, David Boal’s great grandson who did the most to cerate the house you see today and acquired many of the treasures within it.

After entering through the porch door, you’ll be taken through the ballroom to the entrance hall. A ram’s head hatrack holds riding gear, perhaps once used by a family member when hunting foxes. More family portraits line the white spindled stairway leading to the second floor, currently closed to visitors. Wallpaper from the 1860s with a large architectural print lines the walls of this hallway. A large blanket chest stands below an equally large mirror dating from the early 19th century.


The front parlor, with its fireplace by a window, is small and cozy. An unusual corner chair from about the 1820s occupies the corner next to the fireplace. The piano under the window spent 100 years in the White House, having been bought by Dolly Madison after the White House was burned in the War of 1812. The Boals purchased it at a White House auction. A card table and chess/checker table show that the family used this room for relaxation and not so much for formal entertaining. An upright piano from the 1840s sits in the opposite corner from the fireplace.

Through an adjacent doorway, you enter the library, a room about the same size as the living room, containing an assortment of chairs from different periods and a Victorian Empire sofa from the 1840s as well as its share of portraits. The focal point of the room is a large fireplace, on the mantel of which sit signed photographs of John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A small table holds a photo signed by all three of the Apollo 11 astronauts after their successful moon landing.

Numerous family keepsakes dot the smaller tables in the room. One of the more unique objects is a Roman soldier’s helmet with its horsetail attached. On the other side of the room on a table filled with books is a French clock from the 1880s, one of several clocks in the room, none of which belonged to the Boal family. A bronze inkwell with a figure of a horse and rider sits on a small drop-front desk. A special display case contains the Boal family’s most prized memorabilia, including a lock of Napolean Bonaparte’s hair—he was related to the Boal family—as well as items from the graves of King Tut’s grandparents—a Boal relative financed Howard Carter’s first expedition in Egypt.

Walking through another doorway takes you into the spacious dining room with its extra large cooking fireplace. This would have probably been the kitchen in the original cabin. As assortment of Bohemian cut glass decanters decorate the mantel. A large Colonial Revival dining table and chairs in the Hepplewhite style most likely date from the last decade of the 19th century. Complementing it is a sideboard of the same vintage which features two pull-out shelves that would have held candlesticks during dinner.

Next is the ballroom, added to the mansion in 1898 by Terry Davis Boal. This large room reflects the opulence that wealthy Americans strived for at the end of the 19th century.

A large gold-leafed mirror, draped in the both French and British flags, dominates the far end of the room and hints at the family’s heritage. A grand piano, standing next to a large white fireplace with an ornate French Regency clock on its mantel, highlights the vast room, with its gold brocade upholstered Rococo Revival chairs and sofas lining its perimeter. The soft sheen of the inlaid hardwood floors reflect the sunlight coming in through the large windows. A harpsicord stands against the wall and crystal chandeliers provide overhead light. A large brass Turkish heater sits in front of the fireplace.

Portraits of family members hang on the red flocked wallpapered walls. A magnificent French Rococo mirror hangs between two sofas on the interior side wall. A crystal chandelier’s light reflects its glow in the mirror. There’s a staid elegance here.

After leaving the ballroom, you’re once again outdoors where you can see the small bell tower on the roof of the original cabin, now located in the middle of the sprawling home.

The Columbus Chapel
From the mansion, the building housing Columbus’s personal chapel seems like a gray stone box standing in the trees. This is the highlight of a visit here.



Trained as an architect, Terry Boal designed several buildings in Denver, Colorado, before traveling to Paris, France, to continue his studies. While there, he married Mathilde Dolorès Denis de Lagarde, a French aristocrat related to Christopher Columbus. When his wife’s aunt died, the Boal family inherited the Columbus family castle in Asturias, Spain. Boal built an exact replica of the castle’s chapel and had the entire contents boxed up and shipped to Boalsburg in 1909.

The original wooden door of the chapel is inset behind a protective grate. Once inside, the striking beauty of the pieces is evident. While they may have been installed in their original places, the vaulted interior of the chapel building, painted a moss green, is plain and the floor cement. In its original location, the chapel would have had a mosaic tile or stone floor, completing the beauty of the objects.

Items range from beautiful 15th century paintings to large religious statues. The Columbus family tree, including illegitimate branches denoted in brown, hangs on the far wall. The Columbus family coat of arms dating back to the 15th century hangs from the railing of the choir loft at the rear. The chapel also contains Columbus’ own folding desk.

The Boal family converted the chapel’s confessionals into storage for nearly 500 years of family correspondence. Tens of thousands of pages of perfectly preserved documents sit on the cabinet’s walls.



The main altarpiece features paintings of saints and four green faux marble painted columns. Chairs for the priest and attendants, displays of vestments, and a cabinet with wide drawers holding vestments for special religious celebrations complete the collection.

However, a small silver cross atop the altar might be the most amazing piece in the entire chapel. If you look closely, you’ll notice two small pieces of wood inside. According to manuscript on the wall certified by a Spanish bishop, these wooden pieces are from the “True Cross of Jesus” and were brought back during the Crusades.

There’s a lot of history packed into this relatively small property. Upon careful inspection, it goes well beyond Columbus and his voyages.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday: 1:30 to 5 P.M.
Open: May 1 through October 31
Admission: Adults: $10, Children: $6
Visit the Boal Museum Web site.

More photos of the Boal Museum and Columbus Chapel.

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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

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Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

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