For anyone interested in AFS's beginnings, a visit to what was once the front line of the Great War is called for. It is there, in the little Museum of Blérancourt, that the memory of AFS's first exploits has been celebrated since the opening, September 11, 1938, of the "Pavilion of the American Volunteers."
In its bulletin of March 1935, the AFS Association announced its intention "to establish a permanent depository for our trophies and archives" in a room of the Museum of Franco-American Cooperation located in the town of Blérancourt, some 120 kilometers to the northeast of Paris, and in a region which had been on the front lines throughout the war.
No suitable or appealing place seems to exist in our own country. In France there are several. Colonel Andrew and Major Galatti have recently discussed with Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt and Miss Anne Morgan the possibility of having a room in the Franco-American Museum which they have organized at Blérancourt and turned over to the French Government. Always good friends of the Field Service, they would welcome us with enthusiasm.
George Rock, "Between the Wars"The History of the American Field Service, New York: Platen Press, 1956
To provide a permanent resting place for our Field Service trophies and records, that they may long bear witness to the high purpose and achievement of the men, now living or dead, who served with the French armies in the American Field Service, is our present hope and task.
No suitable or appealing place seems to exist in our own country. In France, there are several. Colonel Andrew and Major Galatti have recently discussed with Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt and Miss Anne Morgan the possibility of our having a room in the Franco-American Museum which they have organized at Blérancourt.
Bulletin of the American Field Service Association, March 1935
The idea for an AFS "museum" was part of the greater context of celebrating American volunteer service in France during World War I. While this service comprised a considerable number of organizations, three had particularly inspired the sort of "esprit de corps" which was to continue: AFS, the Lafayette Flying Corps (50% of which was made up of former AFS drivers) and the American Committee for Devastated France---the CARD.
The initiative came from the president of the CARD, Anne Tracy
Morgan, who would found the museum at Blérancourt and solicit
AFS's participation. Miss Morgan had first become acquainted with
the Field Service in 1916 in her capacity as board member of the
American Fund for French Wounded.
In August of 1919, Anne Morgan purchased, one after another, the two parcels of land which contained the château ruins, terrace and moats. Nothing remained of course of the former grounds, which she would try to buy back, piece by piece [...]
Anne Morgan laid out walkways, installed a fountain at the back of the terrace, thus recreating the longitudinal perspective of the domain. She marked the end of this perspective with a stone bench decorated with griffins --- the CARD's emblem, borrowed from the coat of arms of the Potier family-- at the point where, of old, a bridge led to the orchards (now the site of the municipal soccer field).
At the same time, Anne Morgan began the progressive restoration of the buildings. First, between 1920 and 1923, came the two corner pavilions, culminating with the establishment, in the right-hand corner pavilion, of a little museum to house the souvenirs of volunteer American organizations of the War (that same year, 1923, marking the founding of a group --- the Friends of Blérancourt --- to promote the continuance of Anne Morgan's work), and with the installation, in the lefthand one, of Miss Morgan's living quarters, whose salon subsists today. In 1925, both pavilions, along with the archway, were granted Historical Monument status.
After that, Anne Morgan and the other founding member of the museum, her faithful friend Anne Murray Dike, undertook the more difficult task of restoring the left wing of the old château. [...]
A few days before the inauguration of the building in 1930, Anne Morgan handed the administration of the domain and collection over to the National Museums, but gave title to the Town of Blérancourt. Thus it was that the State continued on with the restoration of the buildings and from 1937 to 1938, succeeded in reconstructing the right wing, which would house collections on American humanitarian aid during World War I, transferred from the right-hand corner pavilion and considerably augmented by donations from numerous individuals, from the American Field Service, and from the Lafayette Flying Corps.
Véronique Wiesinger, "The Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at Blérancourt: an Overall View", Antiques Magazine, Fall 1991
Finally, AFS had "its" museum. The Pavilion of American Volunteers of 1914-1918 was inaugurated at the Museum of Blérancourt on September 11, 1938.
The vision of a permanent home for our souvenirs, which first formed in the mind of Piatt Andrew as far back as 1917, and which he cherished through all the years between, did not become a reality without long effort. You all know something of the story: the unsuccessful attempt to find a suitable place in America; the eventual chance to have a place at Blérancourt, and the first intention of having a new wing added to the existing pavilion; the abandonment of this idea because of the wish of the French Government to have the new wing built, to house the souvenirs of other volunteer organizations; the unavoidable but disappointing postponement of 1937.
Bulletin of the American Field Service Association, no. 19, June 1939, p. 15