The museum’s current mission harkens back to 1972, when Manassas was preparing for the town’s 1973 centennial. Inspired by a small museum in Strasburg Virginia, life-long resident Walser Rohr suggested that the town assemble artifacts for display in a trial museum.
A Committee enthusiastically embraced the idea and Mrs. Rohr and volunteers outfitted a downtown space with objects to display. An article in the Manassas Journal requesting donations for display resulted in 52 items of various sorts. The exhibit opened for the centennial celebrations in 1973 and was a resounding success. Buoyed by that success, the Manassas Historical Committee found a permanent location for the museum in the 1896 Hutchison Building on Main Street, where the museum officially opened in 1974. Collections items were loaned or donated to the museum and displayed in cases acquired from a former department store. Much of the early success of the upstart museum was due to the dedication of volunteers who worked for little or no pay. Ren Conner, the Museum’s first curator, worked for over a year without pay and five additional years with only a small stipend. In 1982, his successor Douglas K. Harvey, a professionally trained curator who had worked with the Smithsonian Institution, became the first permanent staff member.
Through the 1980s, the Museum’s collections and permanent staff continued to grow. It soon became evident that citizens supported construction of a new museum, and a new facility on Prince William Street opened in 1991. The museum also became steward to city-owned historic sites: the 1825 Liberia plantation; the 1861 Mayfield Earthwork Fort; the 1864 Cannon Branch Earthwork Fort; the 1914 Southern Railway Depot; the 1908 Hopkins Candy Factory building; and the Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial, a site commemorating a significant African-American school.
Since 1991, the museum has increased exhibit spaces to include new interactive displays and educational offerings for all ages that explore the city's rich history from Native Americans to the present day in permanent and changing galleries. Echoes, the Manassas Museum Store, specializes in distinctive locally crafted gifts where trained tourism ambassadors offer an array of visitor services. Its central location and expansive front lawn mean the museum is always at the heart of every community celebration.
Today the Manassas Museum System mission statement takes into account its historic origins and its view toward the future:
The Manassas Museum System is the cornerstone of the City’s tourism effort with a mission to instill pride and promote civic engagement, use the lessons of the past to educate, connect and grow the community, and to create a unique and enjoyable visitor experience that contributes to making Manassas an extraordinary destination.
Watch the WDVM story about the exhibit space, "Annie's Porch."