Donor gives Hoag Library $10k to restore Civil War flag from Colored Troops regiment

Photo by Tom Rivers: Hoag Library has a flag from an African-American unit that fought in the Civil War. The flag has 35 stars. That’s how many stars were on the flag for two years from 1863 to 1865.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 July 2020 at 10:42 am

Library asks expert how to best preserve flag for the future

ALBION – An anonymous donor has given Hoag Library $10,000 to have a Civil War flag restored.

The library is having a textile conservator and flag expert do an analysis of the flag to see how it can best be preserved and what the estimated cost would be. If the cost exceeds $10,000, the library may ask the community for additional donations for the project, said Betty Sue Miller, the library director.

If the cost seems too expensive, the library might not proceed with the restoration and the $10,000 would be returned to the donor.

Miller discussed the restoration briefly during the library’s annual meeting on Wednesday evening.

The flag was driven to Delmar near Albany by Kevin Doherty, Hoag Library president. The flag is being analyzed by Spicer Art Conservation, LLC, a firm that has cleaned and restored many Civil War flags, and even one from the War of 1812, which was a half century before the Civil War.

Gwen Spicer, owner of Spicer Art Conservation, has worked on many historically significant flags and banners, including a pre-Revolutionary War “Liberty” flag and Civil War flags. She has treated flags from every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present, according to the Spicer Art Conservation website (click here).

The Hoag Library board of trustees on March 13, 2019 voted to have the flag sold through an auctioneer in Dallas, Texas. Heritage Auctions estimated the flag would sell for $20,000.

The library board, however, never followed through with the sale after hearing from the community and having a donor step forward, offering to fund a restoration up to $10,000.

The flag is from a Colored Troops regiment. The 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops wasn’t for a local unit. Those troops were based out of New York City, although former County Historian Matt Ballard said the group was led by a local white soldier, Charles H. Mattison of Barre.

The library trustees in March 2019 felt it would be costly for the library to preserve the flag and then to properly display it. The trustees didn’t think the library should have the responsibility of caring for an artifact that didn’t originate in the local community.

Hoag officials last year reached out to African-American museums as well as the Smithsonian to see if they were interested in the flag. The African-American museums said they would accept it, but only if it was restored. The Smithsonian would accept it and put it in storage. It might be decades before it was worked on or displayed, Miller said.

The flag has been in a frame for many years. The white stripes in particular have deteriorated. The library trustees were concerned if the library keeps the flag, in the current frame, the flag would further wither away.

Spicer Art Conservation will likely have recommendations on the best course of action to preserve and display the flag.

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