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25-year lease lays foundation for Museum of Indian Culture’s expansion in Allentown

Jason Addy
Allentown City Council members approved a new 25-year lease for the Museum of Indian Culture on Fish Hatchery Road.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A new 25-year lease will help the Museum of Indian Culture bring Allentown’s indigenous history to life, according to its executive director.

City Council members this month unanimously approved a new quarter-century lease — at $1 a year — for the museum in the Little Lehigh Parkway.

Pat Rivera, who’s served as the museum’s executive director for two decades, said her organization is “thrilled with” the new lease, as it can move forward with plans to “expand beyond our four walls (to) where the Lenape story actually happened.”

The museum recently received just over $1.5 million to build a Lenape village on three-quarters of an acre.

“We're going to be able to take the landscape and the history and meld it all together."
Pat Rivera, Museum of Indian Culture executive director

That land will include seven “educational pods” featuring demonstrations of indigenous “lifeways,” like fishing, cooking and making nets, Rivera said.

The demonstrations will show “how life existed primarily in the 17th century, the very start of when the European settlers got here and started with trade,” she said.

Concept Plan april 2021.JPG
Pat Rivera, Museum of Indian Culture
A concept plan for the Lenape Village established in April 2021.

“We're going to be able to take the landscape and the history and meld it all together,” Rivera said. Once the upgrades are complete, “we'll be able to reflect that history for generations to come. So we're really excited to be able to share the Lenape story.”

The village is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025.

The money will also fund a new welcome center at the museum, an extension of the Lenape Trail and an audio tour, she said.

Molly of Denali sign at the Lenape trail
Amber Emory
Workers place a sign on one of the displays at the Lenape Trail at the Little Lehigh Parkway as part of the interactive experience established by PBS39.

Two archeological excavations in the 1980s “proved the Lenape had traveled along the Little Lehigh Creek, and within this particular area, well over 11,000 years ago,” Rivera said.

“We're going to be able to now bring that story outside,” she said.

Those who understand the area’s long history “can almost envision it” when standing outside the Museum of Indian Culture, Rivera said.

“When you go out, you can get a taste and envision canoes going down the Little Lehigh, envision … that walking path and traveling from one space to another, especially for trade and survival,” she said. “You can envision the Lenape fishing there.”

The museum’s upcoming projects will “bring all of that ancient history to life for people, not only to see it, but I'm hoping that they will feel and have that appreciation, understanding, that the Lenape … not only survived here, but they thrived here for many, many years,” Rivera said.

The museum attracts about 11,000 visitors a year, but Rivera said that number could climb to 18,000 by 2026, when the village is fully open.

She thanked Allentown officials for their “full support,” paying special tribute to the “wonderful” Parks and Recreation Department.

The museum and city held a rededication ceremony for the Lenape Trail in May, with the Delaware Nation flag raised at City Hall for the first time.

By the end of its new 25-year lease, the Museum of Indian Culture will be closing in on its 70th year.

It was founded in 1980 as the Lenni Lenape Historical Society/Museum of Indian Culture; it dropped the first half of its name in 2005, to reflect “the diversity of our exhibits,” according to the museum’s website.

The Museum of Indian Culture partnered in 2020 with Delaware Nation, a federally recognized Lenape tribe in Oklahoma. The museum houses an extension of Delaware Nation’s Historic Preservation Office.