Rita Koman remembers the early days of the Manassas Museum.
Koman, a local historian and a retired Osbourn High School history teacher, sits on the Manassas Historic Resource Board, which advises the city on its historic sites.
In 1976, she volunteered on Saturdays and Sundays at what was then the collection's headquarters, a former bank on Main Street.
Koman credits civic leader Walser Conner Rohr as the force behind what began as a temporary exhibition to commemorate the town's centennial in 1973.
"I remember she suggested having people donate their old local things for the summer," Koman said. "It was very, very crude. Things were literally spread out on tables, . . . but it was quite obvious that there was a need for something like this because so many people brought their stuff in."
Since then, the Manassas Museum has swelled not only in size but in its importance to the community.
Today, Melinda Herzog, the city's historic resources director and Manassas Museum director, said the museum is on the threshold of another major growth spurt.
"We've well outgrown our space here," Herzog said of the museum's building at the end of Battle Street in Old Town Manassas. "We're 30 years old as a museum. . . . You have enough maturity by then, and you get to a point where you've collected enough that you need to expand."
After years of discussions, a $3.2 million proposal to expand the museum is in the Manassas Capital Improvement Plan.
In October, the City Council voted to spend $200,000 to plan the expansion and an additional $100,000 to create changing exhibitions for the museum.
Herzog said she hopes to increase the museum's size from its 7,000 square feet, adding 1,000 square feet for a "children's hands-on discovery gallery" and 2,000 for exhibition space. Plans also include a teacher's resource center, public meeting space, an archive and other work and storage space.
Herzog said that the museum will start installing its first rotating exhibition as early as March, but that full construction on additional space isn't likely to begin for at least a few years.
Herzog said she hopes to get full funding for the expansion in the form of a bond issue on the 2005 local ballot. She estimates the bond to total about $2 million to $2.25 million.
The museum owns thousands of items that, because of storage constraints, are kept in staff members' offices and off-site locations throughout the city. The staff is often forced to turn down new gifts.
"We've never been able to display our whole collection," Herzog said. "Our greatest fear is that we'll lose donations because we don't have the space to store them."
In a related project, in September the Manassas City Council voted to allocate $134,000 in funds raised by the nonprofit Manassas Museum Associates to renovate Liberia House. The landmark is one of the few structures still standing after the Civil War, and it hosted President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis at different times during the war. It was also the headquarters of both the Union and Confederate armies at separate times.
Herzog said deteriorating conditions at Liberia House have made its restoration a priority.
Herzog hopes to have an architect hired by the end of February to plan Liberia House's restoration and a team of architects and consultants hired later in spring to draw blueprints and estimate the added operation costs for the museum.
The Liberia House project has also gained national attention. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) is seeking $100,000 from Congress to help restore the house. That funding was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in October and is scheduled to go before the full House as part of the annual appropriations bill later this month.
"This is very important," Wolf said in an interview. "You want to preserve and protect history. How many houses are there that Jefferson Davis visited in addition to President Lincoln? Around here, probably none."
"It's a pretty exciting time," said John Payne, vice chairman of the Historic Resource Board. "This museum really has the potential to be a very strong representative of the northern Piedmont region, and to really represent the character of the region, not just Manassas. It has the potential to have a regional draw, . . . and it's an invaluable tool to enhance the quality of life in Manassas."