When we travel we often try to check out a museum we have never visited before. Such was the case over the 4th of July weekend when we visited the Boal Museum in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Boalsburg, along with a couple other places, lays claim to the birthplace of Memorial Day, but that’s another story. The little town is adjacent to State College, Penn., the home of Penn State University and where our oldest daughter Kate and her family live. Kate arranged for nine members of our family to take the tour. Reservations were required because of COVID-19 and of course masks were worn.
The museum complex has an odd mix of things to see. For instance it houses a couple of centuries of Boal family furnishings and memorabilia as well as the Columbus Chapel and a significant collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts. How could that be in a small central Pennsylvania town? Let’s follow the genealogy of the Boal family to find out.
First Generation: David Boal (1764-1837) was born in Ireland and after the failed Irish Rebellion fled to America and believed to have been hidden in a blanket chest. In 1809 he purchased the property where the Mansion now stands and built a two room stone cabin.
Second Generation: David’s son George Boal (1796-1867) became Associate Judge for Centre County and served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for a period in the 1840s. He was also one of the founders of the Farmers High School which opened in 1855 and went on to become the Pennsylvania State University. George Boal fathered 9 children.
Third Generation: David C. Boal (1822-1859), one of George’s sons, also served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and worked as an attorney in the town of Bellefonte. Another son Captain John Boal (1838-1865) died in the Civil War at Averasboro, North Carolina. A third son George Jack Boal (1835-1898) also became a lawyer and settled in Colorado where he served the mining industry.
Fourth Generation: Colonel Theodore Davis Boal (1867-1938) was the only child of George Boal to survive to adulthood. He was trained as an architect, married in France in 1893 and moved back to Boalsburg in 1898 where over time he greatly expanded the family home and complex of buildings. Theodore also moved the Columbus family chapel from Spain to Boalsburg. In addition Theodore had a distinguished military career including founding his own cavalry troop in 1916 and service in Mexico and France during WWI. He is also credited with founding the Boalsburg fire, water, electric, telephone and bus companies.
Fifth Generation: Theodore and Mathilde had one child, Pierre de Lagarde Boal (1895-1966). He joined the French Calvary in 1914 at the outbreak of WWI. By 1916 he was a pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps and then was a captain in the US Army Air Service in 1920. Eventually he served as US ambassador to Nicaragua and Bolivia. In 1952 Pierre opened the Boal Estate to the community as a museum.
Earlier I mentioned the Columbus family chapel. It came into the family through Theodore Davis Boal’s (fourth generation) wife, Mathilde de Lagrarde (1871-1952). The structure was a portion of her inheritance from her aunt, Victoria Montalvo Columbus. It was removed from a castle in Austurias, Spain. Interesting antiquities found at the museum and in the chapel include an admiral’s desk believed to have been used by Columbus, Columbus family archives dating from 1453 to 1908, two pieces of wood believed to have come from the True Cross and an exceptional collection of European art dating from the 15th to 18th centuries.
The Boal family in America is now eight generations removed from David Boal, the young Scotch-Irishman who helped found Boalsburg, Penn. While Americans take pride in tracing their linage to the American Revolution and the Mayflower, some members of the Boal family can trace their roots to Christopher Columbus. The Columbus collection along with other family heirlooms connected with the Boal family make for an interesting visit to the museum.
To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail email@example.com or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”