AUGUSTA — A proposal to develop a vacant lot at State and Winthrop streets into a judicial heritage museum that would apparently also house the controversial statue of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller is now on hold.

The Augusta Planning Board agreed Tuesday to delay consideration of an application for the Maine Judicial Heritage Society Museum, which would consist of a statue and a maintenance shed on the former site of the YMCA enclosed by a fence and gate.

The board’s decision came after a public hearing during which all speakers opposed the museum plan brought by Robert Fuller Jr. More than 30 people from around the state also submitted letters and emails opposing the  proposal.

While the application doesn’t specifically identify the controversial statue, Robert Fuller Jr. is the current owner of a statue of Augusta native Melville Fuller, who served as chief justice of the United State for more than two decades. The elder Fuller presided over the U.S. Supreme Court that established the separate but equal doctrine that allowed racial segregation of public facilities for decades in the United States.

Fuller also owns the lot at 33 Winthrop St., where the museum is proposed to go, and he has until April to find a new location for it under an agreement reached by Kennebec County Commissions.

The application materials include the museum’s mission statement and describes the goals of the project, including “fostering an atmosphere of inclusion and intellectual consideration of the unforeseen consequences of judicial rulings, and to encourage balanced consideration of the past to help future judges in their research.”


The document also indicates the museum would acquire an archive of documents and memorabilia from the state’s judicial history for use by the public and scholars. It acknowledges that the society does not yet have a building for the archive, but acquiring one would be the next step after the outdoor space is under construction.

On Wednesday, James Coffin, of E.S. Coffin Engineering and Surveying Inc., who presented the proposal to the Planning Board, referred questions to Fuller. A call to Fuller was not immediately returned.

For more than an hour Tuesday, speakers lined up to oppose the project. While they were cautioned against speaking about the subject matter of the proposed museum, most people ignored that and gave their opinions of the controversial jurist and the statue of him that is currently outside the courthouse.

A statue of former Chief Justice of the United States Melville W. Fuller is currently located on the front lawn of the Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. Plans are under consideration to find a new permanent home for the controversial statue. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“According to your definition, a museum serves society, but based on the application, it doesn’t seem to serve the interests of anyone but the person who owns the land right now,” said Michael Israel Mosely. “I will just leave it at that.”

Among the speakers was Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti, who represents the neighborhood where the museum is proposed to go. She is also the chief of the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, where her duties include supervising charities and nonprofits.

“I’m very confused and perplexed about this proposal, because it doesn’t fit into any of my boxes as to what a charity is,” Conti said.


Conti said the information in the application, which includes a mission statement for the museum, raises some red flags. Among them is the lack of detail about what the museum would do, and the size of Fuller’s board. She said it has three members, and it’s not clear what their experience is.

“It breaks my heart if Augusta becomes known as a place where there is a monument to what is really institutional racism and American apartheid in my neighborhood,” she said. “I don’t know if I can stop that. He has the right to do that.”

She said her equal concern is that it will fall into obscurity, because most people don’t know who the elder Fuller is, and most people don’t care.

“Nobody is going to go this park because it’s going to be locked most of the time, and there’s not going to be any activity there to attract people,” she said.

A statue of Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller is currently on the front lawn of the Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. There is a museum proposal under consideration that includes moving the controversial statue across Winthrop Street to the vacant lot seen just behind it. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Conti was not alone in questioning the nature of the project, noting that it seems more like a park than a museum.

Under the city’s zoning, a park is not allowed in the Institutional/Business/Professional District, where the lot is located.


Under Augusta’s Land Use Ordinance, a museum is considered to be a “nonprofit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education, study and enjoyment.”

“Despite the conversation about the person, I felt this (application) just didn’t meet the definition of a museum,” board member Catherine Cobb said at the end of the public hearing.  “It was devoid of enough details to make any rational judgment.”

Fuller had donated the statue and the cost of setting it in place at the Kennebec County courthouse to Kennebec County.

In 2020, the Maine Judicial Branch asked Kennebec County commissioners to consider moving the statue. Judicial officers in Maine had reached the consensus the statue and its location were “not consistent with our values” because of Fuller’s association with the separate but equal doctrine that legalized racial discrimination in the United States for decades.

After a series of meetings by a committee appointed by the Kennebec County commissioners to make a recommendation on where to move the statue, Fuller agreed to take back the statue and pay for its removal by April 2022. The commissioners conveyed the statue for $1.

Melville Fuller was born in Augusta in 1833. After graduating from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, he became a lawyer and shortly afterward moved to Chicago. President Grover Cleveland appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1888 and he was sworn in that year. Fuller served 22 years, until his death in 1910.

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