For years, Mike Mercier of Cary has been collecting artifacts for a museum dedicated to Camp Butner, the Army training camp where tens of thousands of men prepared to fight in World War II.
Now, a small, temporary version of the museum is set to open in Soldiers Memorial Sports Arena in conjunction with Butner’s Veterans Day ceremony. The town board recently agreed to let museum organizers use a storage room in the building – one of a handful of structures built for the camp that still survive – to display some of their collection of artifacts and documents for the next year or so.
Mercier said the Camp Butner Society still hopes to open a permanent museum in a wood-frame building the Army built at Butner in 1942, most likely as a soldiers’ lounge. The town has agreed to let the society use the building, but it sits on property owned by the N.C. National Guard, which hasn’t agreed on a lease, Mercier said.
In the meantime, Mercier and others have been collecting dog tags, signs, artillery shells and other artifacts from the base, as well as photos and documents. He says people who donate objects often ask if they can come see them on display, and he’s happy to finally be able to say yes.
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Organizers have been collecting dog tags, signs, artillery shells and other artifacts from the base, as well as photos and documents.
Mercier said the society isn’t sure yet how often the museum will be open; he thinks it will be just once a month, on a Saturday afternoon, and by appointment. He said there’s room for only about half of the growing collection.
“We ran out of display space real quick, but I’ve got a lead on some other cases,” Mercier said Monday, as he and other volunteers worked to get the museum ready.
Camp Butner officially opened in August 1942, six months after the War Department began acquiring land in former farming communities in southwestern Granville County. Named for Maj. Gen. Henry Wolfe Butner, a Surry County native who had died in 1937, the camp was built to handle 40,000 soldiers.
The Army built row upon row of two-story wooden barracks, as well as three swimming pools, several theaters and five all-faith chapels, two of which survive as churches today. There were several artillery ranges, as well as a prisoner of war camp for Italian and German soldiers and an Army hospital that the government thought might become a veterans hospital after the war.
Camp Butner officially closed in January 1947. More than 20,000 acres were sold back to farmers, while more than 13,000 acres, including the streets and buildings that make up the town, went to the state. It established several institutions at Butner, including a N.C. National Guard training base, an agricultural research farm and John Umstead Hospital for the mentally ill, which took over the old Army hospital.
For more information about the museum, go to the Camp Butner Society’s page on Facebook.