The United States has many museums and exhibit spaces featuring the history, culture and art of the Christian faith. The vast majority of these are tied to colleges and universities, large churches or religious institutions. There are relatively few independent Christian exhibition spaces, and one of the hidden gems is the privately run Christian Heritage Museum in Hagerstown. This small but surprising exhibit hall has displays of rare Bibles, artwork and such, but what really differentiates this museum is the collection of historic papers, many autographed by some of Protestant Christianity’s greatest theologians.
The Christian Heritage Museum was founded by Gene S. Albert Jr. Albert, a former seminary student, developed a great interest in Christian history during his time as a student and, by extension, an interest in historic religious art and artifacts.
He began collecting items of Christian interest in the 1970s. Among these were Bibles and pieces of artwork. A successful businessman, Albert’s personal collection grew substantially, and soon was sufficient to warrant interest from the general public.
Of particular interest was Albert’s collection of autographs, including both independent signatures and signatures on all sorts of documents and paraphanelia. Over the last four decades, he has assembled what may be the world’s finest collections of private autographs of Protestant interest.
The Christian Heritage Museum is one of the most unique historical museum experiences anywhere. With permission, some of the artifacts and books can be handled, and it is one of the very few places where the public can touch a Bible more than four centuries old.
The Christian Heritage Museum is surprisingly located in the humble structure of a restored, century old farmhouse. It features exhibits on rare books, mostly Bibles of course, artwork, and odds and ends. Some of the highlights include a complete original edition of the King James Bible, the Eliot Indian Bible (the first to be published in America), and even pages from original Wycliffe and Gutenberg Bibles.
The museum’s real treasure is its phenomenal collection of autographs. Many of the biggest names in Protestant history are represented, beginning with such giants as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Signed documents of well-known American and English theologians can be found, including Charles Wesley, John Witherspoon, Cotton Mather and Francis Asbury. There is even a letter from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and an original copy of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers, handwritten and signed by Sabine Baring-Gould.
The Christian Heritage Museum is located on the north side of Hagerstown, approximately four miles from the city center. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.christianheritagemuseum.com (official website).