Sale of Civil War flag is a loss for the community
I wish I had known about the Civil War flag at the Hoag Library before this week. As a history enthusiast and trustee of the Orleans Historical Association, I would have worked toward an effort to retain it locally. I was very disappointed to learn the trustees of Hoag Library in Albion voted 5-0 to sell this Orleans County artifact.
This flag was carried by the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops. Somehow it was placed in the Roswell Burroughs building which later became the Swan Library. There is evidence that a local Civil War soldier, Charles H. Mattison of Barre, may have been responsible for the flag’s eventual storage at the old Swan Library in Albion.
I am no stranger to the cost of historical preservation and restoration, having been fortunate to have had the support of local history devotees as we preserved and restored the oldest cobblestone building in Orleans County, namely the Gaines District #2 Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. There are local experts who know how to apply for preservation grants. They are more than willing to share their knowledge and provide guidance. We have tapped them for the cobblestone schoolhouse project.
I understand Hoag Library tried to get some other places outside of the area to take responsibility for it, to no avail. Unfortunately, they did the short-sited, conservative, easy thing and voted to sell it. As trustee Linda Weller asked, “Is it the library’s job to pay the money to have it restored?” My response to this question is pure and simple: “This is how we lose our history. This is why we destroy rather than preserve and educate.”
We are caught up in the short-sighted philosophy that money outweighs all. And once again, Albion and Orleans County loses a part of its past that has remained in the library’s care for over 100 years. And it’s my understanding, Hoag Library doesn’t need the money!
Roswell Burroughs, the builder and owner of the building that became the old Swan Library (where the flag was found) once gave a wonderful oratory in Albion commemorating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and its devastating impact on Orleans County and Albion. Could this flag have been linked to him? He still owned the building when Lincoln died. Could this flag have been a gift?
Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard and Civil War enthusiast Tom Tabor have done some work researching this flag, and more can be done. Rather than ask short-sited questions like “why spend the money,” we should be asking “what are we giving up.” I understand that if the flag doesn’t fetch $10k or more, we can get it back.