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Hoag Library votes to sell Civil War flag

Photos by Tom Rivers: Three trustees for the Hoag Library look at a Civil War flag at the board’s meeting tonight. They include, from left, Anitrice Bennett, Terry Wilbert and Linda Weller.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 March 2019 at 10:09 pm

ALBION – Hoag Library’s board of trustees voted tonight to sell a Civil War flag from a Colored Troops regiment.

The board said preserving the flag would be an estimated $8,000 to $10,000, and properly displaying it would have added more expense.

“Is it the library’s job to pay the money to have it restored?” asked trustee Linda Weller.

The trustees said the library’s mission isn’t to be a museum. It voted, 5-0, to work with Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas to sell the flag. Heritage will receive a 5 percent commission for the sale. Hoag also has to spend up to $750 to have the flag, which is in a frame, crated and shipped to the Heritage Auctions. That expense will include insurance.

The library trustees didn’t want to delay in its vote. The flag can still be featured in the upcoming summer auction that features Civil War artifacts. Waiting another month would have meant the flag would miss the auction. Heritage Auctions needs time to have the flag included in a catalogue of items for the sale.

The library board looks over the flag. Board President Kevin Doherty is in back.

Last month the trustees discussed the issue and decided to wait a month. The possible sale was featured in the local media and only two community members, besides the board, attended the meeting. Weller took that as a sign of little interest from the community.

(Editor’s Note: I was the lone speaker in favor of keeping the flag, of preserving it and displaying it properly. I think the flag could be a draw, and could be part of a larger heritage trail in the Albion community.)

Tom Taber of Albion is a Civil War enthusiast. He spent 15 years researching a book about Orleans County men who fought in the Civil War. Taber’s book, The “Orleans Battery” – A History of the 17th New York Light Artillery in the War of Rebellion, details the service of 240 men from Orleans County who served in the war.

Taber has known about the flag the past decade and has pushed the library the past two years to not just leave it in a back room. Either preserve it or sell it, Taber said.

“It should not sit there and rot away forever,” Taber told the board.

Taber said the flag for the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops isn’t for a local unit. Those troops were based out of New York City, although County Historian Matt Ballard said in an email to the Orleans Hub they were led by a local white soldier, Charles H. Mattison of Barre.

The flag will only be sold if fetches a minimum bid of $10,000. Heritage Auctions is estimating it will sell for about $20,000.

If the flag doesn’t sell for at least $10,000, it could come back in Albion. Heritage Auctions could also try to sell it online or through a catalogue.

Taber believes it will be a hot item because it is connected to black history in the Civil War.

“I don’t see it not selling,” Taber told the board. “These kind of things don’t come up.”

Kevin Doherty, the board president, said the flag could be sold and end up anywhere. The library can’t limit where it goes.

Hoag officials 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.

The board has nine trustee positions. One is currently vacant and three trustees couldn’t make tonight’s meeting. Doherty, Weller, Terry Wilbert, Gloria Nauden and Anitrice Bennett voted to move forward with the sale.

They said they worried the flag would further deteriorate at the library.

“If we keep it, it’s our job to protect it,” Wilbert said. “If we don’t pass this resolution (to sell the flag), we need to preserve, protect and display this. My concern is we would do more damage to it.”

Proceeds from the sale may go to the library’s local history collection, including scanning old newspapers.

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