Museum at Mountain Home closed, related artifacts to be sent to national collection

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Museum at Mountain Home on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus now sits empty.

All the artifacts housed there had to be packed up when VA administration announced a massive renovation project at the old mess hall building that housed the museum.

In recent months, VA leaders decided the Mountain Home-related artifacts will have a new home. They plan to donate all Mountain Home-related items to a newly founded National VA History Center that will open in Dayton, Ohio.

Some community members do not want to see this happen.

“It’s things that we don’t want to lose. It is part of our history,” said Martha Trevathan.

She and Ken Harrison, both former VAMC employees, helped found the museum. The pair said they spent a great deal of their life building this historical collection that spans decades and generations.

“This has been part of our life since we were in our 20s. To be blindsided, I felt like I’d just been smacked in the face,” said Trevathan.

“These items helped portray the history of all that went on here. People, events, things, the whole bit. When you have something real in front of you, it’s more than just talking about it,” said Harrison.

Trevathan and Harrison are no longer on the museum board, but both wish there would have been more communication about what was happening to the collection upfront.

Dr. Caroline Abercrombie is the current president of the board.

“It’s a really important part of our history, but I also think its important to share that history with as many people as possible,” said Abercrombie.

Abercrombie argues with the upcoming construction and no suitable place to store all of the museum’s items related to Mountain Home, she would rather see them go to the future national museum in Ohio.

“It’s almost like fate that that opportunity presented itself in that time so the items could get the respect and presentation that they deserve,” said Abercrombie.

She added the museum board did not vote on what would happen to the museum’s items, the VA made that decision and informed the board. Abercrombie says still, she supports this decision because she believes it is what is best to preserve the collection.

The director of Mountain Home VA Medical Center, Dean Borsos, agrees.

“We are taking part of Mountain Home history and sharing it on a national level. These pieces will now have a national legacy as well,” Borsos told News Channel 11.

Borsos added this decision was also made with anticipated growth of the VA in mind. He wants to renovate the building that housed the museum to restore it to its ‘former glory’ and use it to further care and treatment for local veterans.

Harrison and Trevathan say they still want to stop the transfer of the items to Ohio, if it is not too late.

“Mountain Home is part of East Tennessee, a big part of it. It has no business letting its history go to Dayton, Ohio,” said Trevathan. “Who from upper East Tennessee is gonna take a vacation and go to Dayton and see our stuff? We want our stuff to stay here.”

She asked that the items be returned to the families of the people who donated them to the museum in the first place if they cannot be returned to display.

Abercrombie believes the stories of these artifacts will live on in Dayton, and put our region on the map.

“We just have to remember, that is a national story. As much as we know it belongs here because it happened here, I still think it is awesome it is going to be represented nationally,” said Abercrombie.

Many historical artifacts from the museum relaying Appalachia’s medical and military history are now in storage in Johnson City. Those items will go back on display in the future when the museum secures a new building.

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