Franklin’s Last Home

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The house does have twenty-first-century nerves and sinews. Modern cables and wires are hidden away beneath floorboards and behind wall panels. Tucked away on the roof is a modern air-cooling system that circulates air through new steel liners in the fireplace chimneys. The house also has the lights, exit signs, and other equipment required to meet modern safety standards.

Conserving the building was one thing. What to do with it was something else. “We had a debate about whether you present it as a museum or whether you present it as a live experience,” says Sir Bob Reid, who became the chairman of the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House in 1997 at the urging of his wife, Lady Jane Reid, who herself has become one of Britain’s leading Franklin experts. The live-experience concept “took time for everybody to accept,” Sir Bob says. “One or two of the older members were not certain about it.”

“We weren’t going to be collection driven,” says Balisciano. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff.” Instead, the foundation took an approach that Balisciano calls “museum as theater”—the tours, the science programs, and the rest.

When Balisciano joined the house in 1999, she thought it would be ready in about two years. But target dates slipped as design work and fundraising proved difficult. “I eventually had to give up my own will,” she says. “Maybe Benjamin Franklin decided that opening in January 2006 for his 300th birthday would be a much more fitting date than some arbitrary day in 2002 or 2003. So it’s 2006.” That sounds like Franklin. As he noted in his Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1753, “Haste makes waste.”

 

To Plan a Trip There are plenty of ways to celebrate Franklin’s 300th