Work on the new 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum just outside the Gasoline Alley Gate is progressing with only minor delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kent Bolke, left, and Sepp Scanlin, museum curator and director, respectively, pay a visit to check on the project earlier this year. One of the static displays is already in place as renovations continue on the new museum. (10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum photos)
Museum renovation continues despite pandemic
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 14, 2020) – It’s still many months away before the new 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum officially opens. However, renovations on the facility just outside the Gasoline Alley Gate are progressing with only minor delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For now, Fort Drum community members can still visit the museum at its current location inside the Heritage Center on South Riva Ridge Loop.
After being closed for several weeks during the pandemic, the museum doors reopened July 6, but at a 50-percent patron capacity. Under the installation’s COVID-19 Response, facilities such as the museum are currently only accessible to DoD cardholders who can enter post without an exception to policy.
“We were very pleased to have gotten the go-ahead to reopen the museum for our Soldiers and family members to enjoy,” said Sepp Scanlin, museum director. “More importantly, we are happy to see all the work that has been done on the new museum.”
“It is a nice building, and we’re going to gain more exhibit space than we had first anticipated,” he added.
But it’s the accessibility that makes the wait worthwhile.
“The concept from the beginning was to move the museum to a facility off post and make it even more publicly accessible than before,” Scanlin said. “For us, that’s huge. Our No. 1 mission is still about educating and training our Soldiers and supporting Fort Drum. But everyone knows how interwoven this installation is with the local communities, so we see this move as a way we can increase that connection with the larger public.”
Scanlin said that the museum renovation will be completed by October, after which the new exhibit cases will be built and installed. Then it will take a few months longer for the fulltime staff of two to dissemble the existing exhibits, pack them and move to the new facility.
“The most difficult part for us, literally, will be the actual move,” he said. “The artifacts here have to be boxed, maintained, moved and reinstalled there. What makes it even harder is the fact we are getting additional artifacts from Fort Belvoir (Virginia) and Anniston Army Depot (Alabama) that we’re going to put on display.”
Some items are not complicated: Taking apart the M1904 machine gun doesn’t require a delicate touch, and historical uniforms are not difficult to move. Other items, like the “Coveted Rock of Somalia” require much more care – essentially the white-glove treatment. Then, they have to consider the near-impossible: the M29 Weasel transport vehicle.
“Yeah, that’s going to be a problem,” Scanlin said. “It was originally moved into the museum before the glass doors were installed at the entrance. So, possibly, the doors may have to be removed again.”
For all of that to happen, the museum will inevitably be closed for several weeks.
“My goal is to do as much as possible without being closed,” Scanlin said. “But we’re going to reach a point where we need to close during the movement of artifacts.”
The museum has been telling the 10th Mountain Division story, while collecting and preserving its material history, since opening in April 2007. Artifacts on display range from the early military history of the North Country and the founding of Camp Hughes in 1907 to the modern hand-launched Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a UAV which is still used by division Soldiers.
“Once the new museum opens, you will see an expanded storyline,” Scanlin said. “We’re going to talk about things you didn’t see here in the past. We’re going to talk more about Pine Camp and things that happened there – planning to get the Army Experiment Station and the sonic deception unit that would become part of the World War II ‘Ghost Army’ into the storyline.”
Scanlin also said that he hopes current exhibits will benefit from a slightly different presentation that will appeal to both new and regular visitors.
“You’re going to see more images and more artifacts to flesh out the story,” he said.
The new museum also will have a small classroom, which Scanlin said can be used to host events but will most serve to educate 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers.
“Because my headquarters falls under TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command), we’ve asked for that to be outfitted as a TRADOC classroom so we can do distance learning with our other museums,” Scanlin said. “If this comes to fruition, then theoretically we can take a field artillery unit here and conduct part of the class virtually with the Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill (Oklahoma). Hopefully, we can also support 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Polk (Louisiana) a little bit better. That kind of training and education aspect is what we really want to leverage that classroom space for.”
Scanlin said that the museum would make a nice backdrop for small outdoor ceremonies such as command changes or promotions. Kent Bolke, museum curator, said that he would be interested in reviving a program he oversaw several years ago. Living History Days brought re-enactors, vehicles and equipment together to recreate history for the public.
“I think we can be that venue for Fort Drum to have these events, because we’re still on federal property but we’re not inside the fence,” Scanlin said. “So we can innovatively use that flexibility that we will have.”
For updates on the museum move and more, visit https://www.facebook.com/FortDrumMuseum/.
The museum is now open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and patrons are asked to wear a face covering and maintain physical distancing during their visit. For more information, call (315) 774-0391.