Oaks >> “Whimsical … eclectic … fun.”

Those are a few words Virginia Frey, director of the American Treasure Tour, uses to describe the attraction.

The first floor lobby of the American Treasure Tour gives no hint about what visitors will find when they begin the tour one fight up.

Once the tour begins, visitors’ senses are inundated with the (literally) floor to ceiling sights and sounds; was that an animatronic gorilla — a castle made from popsicle sticks — a giant shoe — a miniature circus — an AIRPLANE?

The American Treasure Tour covers 100,000 square-feet inside the sprawling former BF Goodrich factory, located at 1 American Treasure Way at the 422 Business Complex in Oaks. The tour is a collection of Americana — everything from antiques to pop culture items from across the decades.

If you remember it from childhood or can think of it — it’s probably on display at the American Treasure Tour.

There are cars, trucks, animatronics, movie memorabilia, miniature circuses, miniature villages, Christmas decorations, nickelodeons, band organs, patriotic items, advertising, dolls, doll houses and music boxes to name a few.

“The items here provide a snapshot of the American culture,” Frey said.

The tour is broken into two parts: A tram ride through what’s called the “Toy Box,” which houses the largest number of the items — and a walk through the Music Room, which features antique musical displays.

The collection is owned by one person, acquired over 55 years. According to Frey, there are more than 1 million pieces in the entire collection — although only a portion of the items is currently on display.

The collector — who insists on remaining anonymous — acquires not just antiques, but “things that make people happy,” Frey added.

“He restored a hot rod when he was a teenager, and became interested in mechanical things. He started the collection with mechanical music, classic automobiles and mechanical store figures. As time went on he began to collect other things, as well.”

A display of about 100 music boxes in the museum is on loan from the Music Box Society International.

“They fell in love with the room and wanted to make it a home base for music boxes from around the world,” Frey said.

The owner was storing his collection in the building when the idea for the tour came about, according to Frey.

“My husband and I knew him and we saw the historic value this collection had. We wanted him to share it. He agreed to do it, and enjoys hearing about the pleasure it brings to others,” she said.

The American Treasure Tour opened in 2011 — initially hosting just groups and custom tours. In June of this year, the attraction expanded its tours, and now is open on Saturday for individuals.

“Student groups come through here and they relate to many of the items in a different way, they are seeing things they have never seen before. When they hear the machines play, they can’t get over it,” Frey said.

The “machines” as she calls them are the nickelodeons, dance hall organs, band organs and music boxes.

“We have one of the largest collections of mechanized music,” Frey added.

In fact, there are 157 mechanized music machines on display in the 20,000-square-foot Music Room, more in the Toy Box, and others that aren’t on display at all — with 300 in the entire collection.

Nickelodeons were popular in the early 1900s and were developed for use in businesses — like bank lobbies and restaurants — as a way to attract people.

“They were really one of the first marketing tools ; the phonograph and radio were not yet popular. So if you were walking down the street and you heard music — you went in to that business,” Frey explained.

The machines were built to be beautiful, as well, and featured music from instruments other than just pianos. For example, there is a Violano Virtuoso on display made by the Mills Novelty Co., which features two violins and an internal piano. The machine was part of the 1909 Seattle Expo. The oldest machine on the tour dates from 1897.

As visitors tour the area — guides can activate the machines via iPads, while offering explanations about the history of each piece.

“Some places just play a recording, but here, we are operating the machines and they play right in front of the guests,” Frey said.

She added that the American Treasure Tour has staff that works to keep the machines in shape.

“As you can imagine — after so much time the machines can be a bit temperamental but the guests like to see them,” she said.

As guests are transported through the approximately 80,000-square-foot Toy Box on an electric tram, tour guides explain the collection.

Among the items in the Toy Box are 70 cars and trucks; 16 motorcycles; an electric wheelchair from 1914; 31 bicycles and a small kit airplane. One of the oldest cars in the collection is a Franklin luxury vehicle built in 1905.

It’s also in the Toy Box where the mechanical store displays are seen, along with a collection of side show art, the mini-circus display, three Double 165 Wurlitzer Band Organs, and additional band organs.

To satisfy visitors’ need for Christmas decorations, there is a Christmas display of nutcrackers, Santas and other mechanical store displays. For the holidays, The American Treasure Tour is playing holiday music on its band organs and nickelodeons.

Frey said the owner occasionally comes in to the museum, but doesn’t give himself away.

“The owner is modest, and mainly wants the collection to be enjoyed,” she said. “His collection of the items was like a treasure hunt for him. That’s one reason we call it the American Treasure Tour. There are many treasures to be found here.”

There are three ways to visit the American Treasure Tour, which is operated by Valley Forge Promotions: General admission for individuals is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays only (except Dec. 24, when the tour is closed). No reservations are accepted for general admission; Custom Tours are for 2 to 14 people, and are offered Monday through Friday by reservation only; and Group Tours for 15 or more people are offered Monday through Saturday by reservation only.

For more information or to make a reservation for a Custom or Group Tour call 866-970-8687. For more information about the attraction visit http://americantreasuretour.com/

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