AUGUSTA — The Maine Military Historical Society’s museum at Camp Keyes is expected to close when the Maine National Guard headquarters moves to a new facility under construction in north Augusta.

Lacking a new home or a curator, the museum is expected to close because the building it is in is scheduled for demolition. It’s next to the entrance to Camp Keyes and across Winthrop Street from the Augusta State Airport passenger terminal.

Camp Chamberlain, the new Maine National Guard Joint Force Headquarters facility, located off Civic Center Drive next to the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery, is expected to open next January.

That will force the museum’s volunteers to either store or find temporary homes for the countless military artifacts it holds, which include pre-Revolutionary War citizen militia flags and drill manuals, uniforms, weapons and scores of photographs from both World Wars. There’s also a Korean War-era Jeep, early 1900s photographs of musters at Camp Keyes, and items brought home by Maine soldiers after they served in conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq.

In addition to schools and youth groups, other visitors to the museum include researchers, military members and their families. It’s now open to the public by appointment only.

“It’s always good to remind our young soldiers of the strong heritage of service Maine has,” said Brig. Gen. Dwaine Drummond, director of joint staff for the Guard. “It’s important to remind our younger members why they wear the uniform and what that means, and understand those who have gone before us and paved the way. It’s a story every American needs to hear, not just the military.”

The museum’s trove of artifacts also includes Medals of Honor awarded to Maine military heroes and even a pistol believed to have belonged to noted Maine Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, who also was Maine’s governor, and for whom the new headquarters is named.

The pistol, a Moore’s .32-caliber rimfire belt revolver, was donated by a member of the Civil War general’s family, and has his initials, JLC, carved into the butt of its handle.

A requirement of securing federal funding to build the $32 million, 100,000-square -foot Camp Chamberlain is that a similar amount of space owned by the Guard must be eliminated when the new space opens, according to Drummond, who is a member of the museum’s board of directors responsible for its artifacts and materials and one of only a handful of volunteers who oversee the museum.

Drummond said no funding was included in the Camp Chamberlain budget for space that would enable the museum to make the move to the new headquarters. So while there is likely to be at least some space for a few of the museum’s artifacts in display cases at the new facility, museum volunteers hope to find temporary homes for some of the items to be displayed elsewhere. They’re also preparing to store the museum’s artifacts elsewhere in warehouses or other buildings expected to remain at Camp Keyes after the headquarters’ move, for however long it takes to find a new home.

While the museum does receive about $8,000 in annual funding to offset the cost of running it, there is no money to build a new military museum, Drummond said.

“Certainly our desire is to re-establish it somewhere else; we’d love to have a new museum someplace, but my guess is that’s not something that’s just around the corner,” Drummond said.

The only curator the museum ever had in its 29 years, founding member Ronald Roussel, had a stroke about a year ago and is unable to curate the museum any longer. Drummond said the museum was Roussel’s passion.

When Roussel was still active in the museum, he guided tours by school, Scouting and other youth groups through the modestly sized but jam-packed museum once or twice a week. It was open one Sunday a month. Without him, the handful of active volunteers now open it by appointment only.

People wishing to see the museum may complete a form on the Maine Military Historical Society’s website, or they can call 626-4468.

Drummond said it probably will remain accessible to the public by appointment into next year.

Some Guard operations and buildings will remain at Camp Keyes, but the museum building is slated for demolition, as are many of the other older, more inefficient buildings there.

Drummond said he’s had at least informal discussions about the museum eventually moving to become part of the Maine State Museum. That could mean it potentially becomes part of a currently unfunded new wing at the Maine State Museum.

“That’s an idea only at this time,” Drummond said. “It’s not a project funded by the state. And there are a lot of priorities for money these days. Right now our goal, for the next year, is to catalog and inventory all our items” to be displayed elsewhere or stored.

Bernard Fishman, director of the Maine State Museum, acknowledged there had been some general conversations about someday moving items from the military museum to the state museum, but nothing specific beyond that.

Angela Goebel-Bain, curator of Maine State Museum’s historical collections, said the Maine Military Historical Society Museum currently has materials on loan to the state museum for a World War I exhibit, opening Nov. 4 and expected to remain for about a year to mark that war’s centennial.

“We’re excited to be able to show them,” Goebel-Bain said of the military museum artifacts that will be in the state museum’s World War I exhibit.

Goebel-Bain said while she is not aware of any plans eventually to add permanent exhibit space for the military museum to the Maine State Museum, she and other state museum staff members have worked closely with military museum volunteers on which items to put in the upcoming exhibit. She said the state museum staff also is working closely with the volunteers to help teach them how best to catalog and store their artifacts.

“We’ve been over there with collection managers, conservators, and given them some guidelines on how to approach their collections, and we’ll talk to them about storage, help them determine what they need to do,” Goebel-Bain said.

She and Drummond also noted the Maine State Museum has some of its items, such as muskets, on loan to the military museum.

Drummond said most of the military museum’s items were donated by the families of deceased soldiers, much of it found in trunks in attics and basements. They have duplicates of many items, especially uniforms, and the upstairs of the museum is packed with uniforms from all eras, books and manuals, and other items.

Drummond said the massive amount of items, numbering in the thousands, and the need to properly catalogue them so they can be retrieved from storage when the time comes, is a daunting challenge.

The museum’s fate is not a surprise to its volunteers. Drummond said they’ve known for five years the building in which it is located would be demolished. He said it is possible the military might come up with funding to create a new museum space, but he said any such proposal would have to compete for limited funding with other priorities.

“We try to tell the story of Maine military history, from the pre-Revolutionary War militias through today,” he said. “We’re the only museum that really covers that entire gamut.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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