Workers from The Cote Corp. of Auburn adjust jacks Wednesday as they move the boiler section of the Lion locomotive at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. The steam engine, among the oldest surviving American-built railroad engines, is being moved as part of the museum’s ongoing $45.4 million renovation project. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The Lion, an 1846 steam locomotive that has spent the past 37 years as a centerpiece of the Maine State Museum lobby, is on the move.

The nine-ton locomotive, among the oldest surviving American-built railroad engines, used to haul cars loaded with lumber from a sawmill in the Washington County community of Whitneyville to the dock at the Machiasport harbor.

The steam engine had to leave Augusta this week to make way for an ongoing $45.4 million construction project at the state building that houses it. The locomotive’s removal makes room for new, interactive and more inclusive educational exhibits that are to be installed in the train’s former location near the museum’s entrance.

The locomotive, which was removed by a crew from The Cote Corp. of Auburn, whose foreman helped bring the train into the museum in 1986, shall return, but the massive machine is to be placed in a less obtrusive location at the museum.

With a remote control for the winch in one hand, Todd Belaire signals Wednesday to workers from The Cote Corp. of Auburn as they adjust the chains used to move the chassis of the Lion locomotive at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Belaire says he helped move the historic locomotive into the museum 37 years ago. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The Lion is going to be moved from where it is now, where it was kind of a cork in the bottle,” said Bernard Fishman, director of the Maine State Museum. “It took up a lot of space, so we’re going to move the Lion to the first floor, near other vehicles, where it will have its own space.”

When the museum reopens, likely in 2025, it is expected to have entirely new exhibit space greeting visitors at the museum’s third-floor entrance for the first time in nearly 40 years.


Fishman said the new exhibits will be much more inclusive and have a stronger focus on women and minority groups. The new exhibits are also expected to include an educational center that uses technology to help convey the state’s history interactively.

Plans call for the approximately 10,000 square feet of space to feature two new exhibits: “Meet Maine Here,” featuring a range of Maine themes and stories, and two massive humpback whale skeletons — a mother and calf — to be accompanied by displays about the ecology and biology of the Gulf of Maine.

“This will be our biggest change since the 1980s,” Fishman said of the new use of the exhibit space. “I think of it as a new museum.”

Design concept for the new entrance area to the Maine State Museum in Augusta, where the Lion locomotive once was. The renovated area will serve as an enhanced orientation space for visitors and an introduction to the exhibit “Meet Maine Here.” The Lion will be moved to a gallery on the museum’s first floor. Design concept by Brewster Buttfield, courtesy of the Maine State Museum

The museum closed in 2020 when the state Cultural Building, where it, the Maine State Library and the Maine State Archives were housed, was shut down for a major renovation project. The work began with emergency asbestos abatement and mechanical and electrical upgrades, including to the building’s air handling system.

The state Cultural Building, which houses the state library, museum and archives, in 2020. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

When first announced, the project was expected to take about two years, but challenges along the way and an expansion of the project to address other issues have delayed its completion.


Construction is now expected to be finished at the end of 2024, according to Sharon Huntley, director of communications for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Huntley said previously undetected fireproofing spray was discovered amid renovations, which added abatement costs and delayed work. Officials decided to make more changes while the building was vacant, including additional fire monitoring, plumbing and accessibility upgrades to bathrooms.

The total renovation cost of the project, which is taking place within the existing building, is estimated at $45.4 million.

The Lion locomotive on display in 2014 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Blake Odgend/Courtesy of Maine State Museum

While the state library reopened at a new location, the museum remained without a physical location, although its exhibits are accessible online.

The Lion locomotive Wednesday at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

While the Cultural Building project is expected to be completed at the end of 2024, the museum likely will not be ready to open until 2025. Fishman said the facility’s small staff will need time to move the thousands of items, placed into storage during construction, back into the museum for the returning  exhibits and the extensive new exhibits planned for the space being vacated by the Lion.

The museum’s new exhibit space comes with a cost of about $3 million, which Fishman said is to be paid with state funds, federal grants and donations from organizations and individuals. He said officials must still raise about $150,000 for the planned whale exhibit.


“We, as a museum, can’t get into the building to install all that until the contractor working on the building is finished,” Fishman said. “We’ll need, we think, about a year and a half to clean up, get ready, move exhibits back where they are going back and install the new exhibits on the third floor.

“We think the people of Maine will find (the new exhibits in the renovated building) very engaging. We miss those large groups of people, and we can’t wait to see them again.”

Todd Belaire, left, directs workers Wednesday from The Cote Corp. of Auburn as the chassis of the Lion locomotive is removed from the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Prior to the closure, the museum typically had about 15,000 students come through each year on school group tours. The museum is now offering educational programming and access to its materials digitally.

Sheila McDonald, deputy director of the museum, said the space freed up by moving the Lion is expected to allow more changeable exhibits to be featured in the lobby area.

She added that museum officials figured that with the major construction project already taking place and the museum being shut down, “if we were going to move the train, now’s the time.”

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