Renovations and construction at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove site have led to curiosity and discovery for Lower Providence residents.
“People drive along Pawlings Road every day. It’s just crazy that they get in here and (realize) that there’s miles of hikes through the woods. People are just dumbfounded that they never found it before,” said Stephanie Britten, Mill Grove’s projects coordinator, referring to the site’s nine miles of trails, and wooded areas that serve as a haven for birds and wildlife.
What caught their eye was the removal of trees, a mountain of dirt and construction equipment building a $16 million, 18,000-square-foot John James Audubon Center for Art and Conservation visitor center/museum that’s expected to open in the spring of 2019.
According to Britten, the impact of the new museum on the trails will be minor, taking away one current trail spoke.
A popular venue for weddings — Mill Grove hosts about 80 each year, according to Britten — the future wedding space will be in the pavilion of the new visitor center museum, she said. It will be near a kitchen, which should make life much easier for wedding caterers.
The three-story stone farmhouse, historically significant for being the first American home of renowned artist, naturalist and author John James Audubon (for whom the National Audubon Society is named), can only do so much in its role as a Historic House Museum. “No matter what you do, there’s no way the HVAC is going to work to preserve works on paper” made during Audubon’s lifetime, Britten said, mentioning one of several reasons for a new museum facility. Most of Audubon’s works on paper illustrations are archived off-site, but will move to the visitor center next year.
Closed for a two-year, $1.1 million renovation, the 1762 structure re-opened to the public in April 2017, but was closed again for the winter to make preparations for the construction of the new museum. The Audubon house opened to the public once again on April 7.
The face lift included new plaster, paint, electrical, rebuilding the chimneys, a new bathroom, and an expanded changing exhibit space. To improve visitor flow, a door that had been covered up by a previous owner of the house is now in use once more.
“There were two retaining walls that were compromised because there were roots growing into the mortar,” Britten said.
In one of the changing galleries through Aug. 16 is an exhibit of photography by Tony Nastase, “Birding the Americas, Travels of an Ecotourist.” Another featured changing exhibit features works by Ann Chahbandour through June.
The John James Audubon Center is a public/private partnership between Montgomery County and the National Audubon Society. From the johnjames.audubon.org website: “We are delighted that most of the $16 million campaign goal has already been raised thanks to early investments from Montgomery County, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and dozens of generous individual and foundation supporters. Achieving our goal will ensure all aspects of the project are fully funded including renovations, construction, exhibits, endowment, and educational programming. We are currently seeking $1.5 million to support the many exciting exhibits.”
The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove is at 1201 Pawlings Road, Lower Providence, and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5, $4 for seniors 65+, $3 for children 6-17. Call (610) 666-5593 for more information.
Looking to the future
Here is a sample of planned future exhibits and outdoor features for the new museum:
• “John James Audubon Art Gallery.” View original Audubon prints, including the “Double Elephant Folio of Birds of America” and the “Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.” A life-size digital version of “The Birds of America” will allow for hands-on learning about each species featured.
• Fledgling Trail. Children of all ages can try mimicking the life stages of a young bird from egg to first flight. It includes a sensory garden, water features, accessible play apparatus, a mini-zip line and benches.
• “Bird Banding.” Learn how John James Audubon used a silver thread on an eastern Phoebe bird, and why it’s still relevant in modern research bird migration.
• “Sound Forests.” Experience bird songs in habitats like forests, coastal areas, wetlands, grasslands and cities.
• “Feathers.” Take a close look at feathers — how they feel, reflect light and help birds fly.
• “Eggs and Nests.” Step inside various size nests and learn why not all eggs are shaped the same.
• “Flight.” Learn how birds’ wings work and view a digital flyway map.
• “Conservation Gallery.” Learn about why conservation became a driving force to protect birds today. A major portion of this exhibit is about the return of puffins to the coast of Maine after almost being extinct in this area.
•Theater. A short movie about the life and work of John James Audubon is played throughout the day. Other short conservation films will also be shown at various intervals.
•Pawlings Porch. Bird watch over a wildflower meadow and learn more about the birds and native plants in our area.
Upcoming special events
From 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursdays in May, and from 10 to 11:30 a.m., and 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays it’s “Canoe with Perks.” Take a guided canoe tour of the Perkiomen Creek with one of the educators. Personal Floatation Devices, canoes and oars are provided. Cost is $15 and pre-registration is required.
From 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays in May it’s “Saturday Morning Bird Walks.” Children and beginners are welcome and binoculars are available if you forget yours or don’t have them. Walks begin in the main parking lot.
From 8 to 9:30 p.m. May 16 it’s a “Night Hike.” Cost is $5 and pre-registration is required.
The historic barn and pavilion will be the location for the “Friends of a Feather” 2018 Celebration at Mill Grove 5 to 8 p.m. May 17. Find a registration link at http://johnjames.audubon.org/get-involved/friends-feather.