Knox Museum deadline closing in

Meeting Jan. 18
By Beth A. Birmingham | Jan 10, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Town Manager Valmore Blastow, second from right, gives an update on the fate of the General Henry Knox Museum during the Thomaston Board of Selectmen's meeting Jan. 8. Shown from left are: Peter Lammert, Peter McCrea, Lee-Ann Upham, Bill Hahn, Chairman Greg Hamlin, Blastow and Recording Secretary Donna Culbertson.

Thomaston — Several options will be considered Thursday, Jan. 18, when the Board of Trustees of the General Henry Knox Museum meet to discuss the museum's fate.

"The last one would be closing," Board Chairman Peter Ogden said. Ogden said the fundraising was at the halfway point as of Jan. 9.

The meeting follows a letter the board sent out to potential donors and the town of Thomaston in mid-December informing them of the "dire situation" confronting the Knox Museum.

"The museum will be forced to close unless $150,000 can be raised by January 15, 2018," the letter said.

Ogden said the museum has been trying to grow the program and keep it running, but like other museums, it has to raise money every year. He said many people care about the museum, but it has never been able to make enough just doing tours.

"The goal of our fundraising is to find donors," Ogden said. "We have regulars that donate, but we really need to find an endowment to help with the $50,000 to $70,000 deficit each year."

The museum's budget in 2004 was $100,000, but expenses escalated to $406,000 in 2015.

A review of recent filings by the nonprofit organization with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service shows it has been losing money, with operating losses in 2014, 2013 and 2012.

Ogden said in 2016 members of the Board of Trustees took money out of their own pockets to keep the museum running.

"The costs involved with keeping the Knox Museum running are significant," Ogden said in an email correspondence Jan. 15.

Ogden said non-negotiatable annual costs for items such as heat, lights, water and sewer, building and grounds maintenance, equipment rental, insurance, legal and professional fees, and communications run approximately $6,245 per month.

"Add to that expenses for programming and personnel, and that figure grows to about $21,000," he said, adding that numbers can vary widely from one year to the next, based on the cost of fuel or what special programs are offered.

"More importantly, the numbers don't tell the whole story," Ogden said.

"Many people may not realize that aside from an annual stipend of $1,900 from the town of Thomaston, all Knox funds come from visitor admissions, individual memberships, donations and sponsorship of events."

Occasionally, a grant is awarded for a special cause, he said.

"Our greatest support comes from the time, talents and generosity of the many dedicated volunteers and longtime donors that care deeply about preserving the museum and the legacy of Henry Knox," Ogden said.

"There's not really any mismanagement of money," he said. "We owe no debt on the building. All we have left to look at is staff and programs," Ogden said. "We can't turn the lights off. It's a costly venture to keep an old building running."

The museum had been operating largely through a significant finite gift, which has been exhausted, and no similar significant gift has been obtained. In addition, grant funding has been inconsistent.

Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow said there is a quitclaim deed provided by the Friends of Montpelier dating back to October 1999, which includes certain requirements. If the nonprofit fails to comply with those requirements, the property will revert to the state of Maine. The deed's conditions include maintaining the premises to the standards of the National Historic Preservation Act.

If the museum closes, the state may take the historical collections housed there and sell or abandon the building. The state holds a historic easement on the collections and Montpelier.

"The state has no interest in running the museum anymore," Ogden said.

Representatives from the state and the Friends of Montpelier board discussed the matter in October.

"We want to make sure the collection stays together and keep it open," Ogden said.

"To lose such a historic treasure to the winds of time is a travesty of enormous proportions," Blastow said in his monthly newsletter.

"General Henry Knox was not only instrumental in founding our country; he was instrumental in establishing the lime industry that made the area what it is today. Knox provided for the business and housing stock the area utilizes to this very day."

Ogden said the museum has been operated since 1999 without any endowment, surviving mainly on the work of vigorous and creative fundraising by the board.

"We have never borrowed and have no debt," he said, adding, "Our small staff goes above and beyond doing whatever it takes to make things happen."

The Moving Vietnam Wall in 2015 had more than 13,000 visitors, and tours of the museum were free to the public during those five days.

"Development is an ongoing activity and good things are continuing to happen," Ogden said, reporting the recent Holiday Open House, which is free to the public, attracted more than 800 visitors – almost double the previous year's attendance.

"What we're looking for at this point is to keep the doors open and to have a conversation," Odgen said. "No amount is too small."

Ogden said ideally the museum will be revived to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2029, and continue to "tell Henry and Lucy's story."

"I don't see us writing the state to ask them to take it back," Ogden said.

The museum honors the life and times of Gen. Henry Knox, who served as secretary of war in the administration of President George Washington.

The original Knox home called Montpelier was built in 1794, but was demolished in 1871 to make way for the construction of a railroad in Thomaston. The current building at the intersection of routes 1 and 131 in Thomaston is a recreation built in 1929.

"We are grateful to those who have already responded with generous donations to help keep the doors open and the board is working hard to make sure their dollars are used wisely," Ogden said.

To make a donation, visit knoxmuseum.org.

The meeting will take place Jan. 18 at 3 p.m. and is not open to the public.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Jan 10, 2018 21:06

Of interest to me: Museum will be forced to close by January 15,th.  This is 5 days away. If the budget was $406.000 in 2015. In 2016 the museum members covered the shortfall, but no mention of how much that was. Losing money every year may not seen as though there is a mismanagement of money, because they apparently is no money, but where did the shortfall happen is their only bill are for lights and electricity? How expensive is the electricity and from the article, unless they pay the staff, why can they NOT shut off the lights, or at least cut way back from what appears to be an enormous expense. Was the electric bill in 2015 $406,000, no explanation. A complete accounting should be published in the paper so people can understand where the real expenses are and perhaps be more sympathetic. Full disclosure may draw some donations. And waiting until the last minute is not prudent to a situation of such significance. Does the town of Thomaston NOT have a fund that might be used? How long will the $150,000 last until the next significant call for desperate call is made? If the members had to put their own money in the should either be reimbursed, which I bet they do not expect, or will they have to again? Of the actual figures were available the public would also better understand how long that $150,000 will last. Not long, if there expenses two years ago was over $400, this will not get them even through the winter. Is there heat on, no mention of that significant expense and we all know what happens to old building with no heat having wallpaper and such, furniture, carpets and so on. If the nonprofit fails to comply with the requirements that the article fails to list (which also might help to entice donors) building reverts to the State of Maine for which Mr. Ofden states " I don't see us writing the state to ask them to take it back". It is in the deed and you may have no choice. The the article states that the meeting will take place Jan. 18, in one week, and IS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. A better disclosed article would serve a much more significant attempt to entice the public to help and inviting the public to discuss the issues  to better understand only shows a less than "transparent" organization.

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