LEWISTON — Rachel Desgrosseilliers stood gazing down at the few remaining rusted gears scattered in the dirt on the grounds of the future home of Museum L-A.

“It’s maddening to think people think so little of our history,” she said, her voice catching.

The executive director of the 12-year-old museum that pays tribute to the history of industry in the Twin Cities discovered the theft Friday morning. She had been storing the gears outdoors while the interior of the former Camden Yarns Mill was under demolition and being cleaned up.

Museum L-A took ownership of the building and grounds just south of Simard-Payne Memorial Park in 2009 from the Miller family, which had owned the property since the 1930s.

Desgrosseilliers said she had collected hundreds of the historical gears with plans to use them in an effort to raise money for the new site of the museum, which has been temporarily housed in one spot or another in Bates Mill No. 1 on Canal Street.

“It’s a big loss for us because we were going to use them for a good cause,” she said. “It’s like taking one step forward and two back.”

The museum has already raised and spent more than $1 million on the new building, but much work with additional expense remains, she said.

Vandals had apparently gained access by using a makeshift ladder propped against a chain-link fence that encircles the property. They likely sold the gears to a scrap-metal dealer for their weight in iron. Earlier, vandals had broken into the building and stripped the place of its copper.

Other, larger gears from various mills in the community that had been fashioned into a sculpture decades ago in Heritage Park had been dismantled and the parts stored at the Public Works Department. Desgrosseilliers recently salvaged those pieces and had been storing them under a tarp on the lot for safekeeping, she said. She had hoped to reuse those larger gears from various mills in the community by possibly having them crafted into art pieces that would grace the grounds of the museum’s new home. When she checked on them Friday, many were missing.

Desgrosseilliers notified police of the burglary Friday morning. The motion-activated lights she had installed on the building didn’t seem to deter the thieves. She plans to seek help in moving the remaining artifacts back into the building to keep them from disappearing, as well, she said, adding that volunteers should contact the museum.

Near the fence, she pointed to chunks of granite from the railroad bed at Bates Mill on Mill Street stacked next to a pile of bricks salvaged from the Cowan Mill that was destroyed by fire in 2009.

What may appear to be junk or rubble to many is to her priceless treasure that can’t be replaced.

“I’m just trying always to think of the future” by holding on to the past, she said.

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