J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Knox Museum May Close in 2018

The Knox Museum in Thomaston, Maine, built to honor Gen. Henry Knox, has announced that it may close next year if it can’t quickly raise $150,000.

The museum is a replica of Knox’s 1794 mansion, called Montpelier. The original fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1871, just two years before the first biography of the general was published. The current building was put up in 1929.

Likewise, most of the artifacts in the building linked to the general and his family appear to be reproductions.

Until 1999, the state of Maine owned the building and surrounding thirteen acres. Finding the site didn’t pay for itself, the state government sold the museum to a non-profit group called the Friends of Montpelier while retaining an easement on the property.

As first reported by the Portland Press Herald, the museum has been running deficits since then, but large donations and grants filled the holes. The Free Press Online identified those sources of money. No source of such funds is lined up for coming years.

The Friends of Montpelier could turn the property back over to Maine, but the state doesn’t view the replica building as historic and wouldn’t keep the museum open. As WABI reported, the collection could be dispersed and the building left empty or sold.

Tom Desjardins, Director of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, told the Press Herald that the Friends had “done an amazing job” with the programs and website, but “There just isn’t enough of a draw of people to generate the revenues” that the site would need to sustain itself.

The Friends of Montpelier will assess the results of the current fundraising campaign and its staff and programming costs in the new year.


Anonymous said...

Gotta say, I agree with the state of Maine. Reproduction built in 1929, not on the original site? There are a lot of houses on my street alone that meet those criteria.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I realize that I live in a house that’s older. On the other hand, a lot of historic sites we revere have been reproduced, reshaped in significant ways, or “restored” inaccurately. Knox was significant to development in that part of Maine, and significant in national history, and (aside from a couple of headquarters houses he used temporarily during the war) there’s no other site dedicated to him. The real problem is that there aren’t a lot of people in or coming through Thomaston.

Katie Turner Getty said...

I took a trip up there a few summers ago and learned a fun tidbit: Do you see how the first floor windows are quite low and front onto the porch? When Lucy and Henry threw parties, they'd keep all of those windows open to allow party-goers to climb in and out--so if a guest was in one of the front rooms and needed air, all he'd have to do would be step out onto the front porch through the window. Whenever I see that type of architectural feature on a house, I smile and think of the Knoxses' parties. :)

Donald Carleton, Jr. said...

It also should be pointed out that--the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands director's comment that the property is not "historic" notwithstanding--by any standard historic preservation criteria a structure built in 1929 would have claims to protection.

Indeed, the house must have some value as a Colonial Revival monument even if its actual connection to Knox himself is tenuous.

The real problem is that there are too many unsustainable house museums out there competing for an ever-shrinking resource pie...

G. Lovely said...

This will be happening to more and more house museums in coming years as interest dwindles and costs rise. In the days before 24/7 access to grand houses that the internet and cable provide there was an audience for these places, but it shrinks each year, and those without a direct claim to a major historical figure, historic event, or relevant and popular programming will find it ever harder to keep the doors open as a museum. For many, eventually reverting to private ownership, with covenants to protect what is of value to the community, is their likely fate.

Mike said...

I believe the American Independence Museum in Exeter, NH had similar problems before reorganizing about five years ago.