The Soldier’s / Civil War Monument

Dan Delleppo – The Soldier’s Monument / Civil War Monument – 1868

Originally referred to as the Soldier’s Monument, the town’s impressive and stately Civil War Monument was erected in 1868 – only three years after the war ended, thus placing it among the five earliest such monuments in the Connecticut.

Remarkably funded by voluntary subscription in a town of only 3,000 citizens, the monument is significant historically as a tangible symbol of a town’s honor and respect for all of its citizens who lost their lives in preserving the Union. The monument has further historical significance because of its then rare recognition of African-American participation in the war. One of the twenty-three names engraved on the sides of the plinth is that of Samuel W. Frances, with the abbreviation for “colored.”

The monument is significant artistically as an early example of a brownstone Civil War obelisk monument, and one with distinguished hand-carved elements and a skillfully sculpted wing-spread eagle.

A somewhat less sophisticated but otherwise identical version of the monument had been erected two years earlier in Bristol that is well documented as made by the shop of James G. Batterson of Hartford – the same Batterson who was later the founded the Travelers Insurance Co.

The monument is twenty-five feet in height and made of Connecticut River Valley brown sandstone from the quarries of Portland, Connecticut. It has a two-stage plinth, seven foot square at grade with a bold egg-and-dart course marking the top of the dado.

The obelisk shaft is enriched by two beautifully carved high-reliefs: one of the shields of Connecticut and the United States and the other a trophy emblem of crossed flag, saber, and rifle. The top of the shaft has a raised foliate molding and then a course of acanthus leaves under the cornice that supports the block and sphere of the eagle.

Grandly placed on its little hill overlooking Main Street, the monument was for many years the civic center for public celebrations of Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day. Town’s people would congregate to hear speeches, sing patriotic songs, and listen to dirges played by the town band as flag carrying veterans would slowly parade along the lanes of the cemetery.

With the problems inherent in the brownstone mined from the Portland quarries, the monument suffered deterioration with the erosion of its carved detailing and the gradual separation of the surface layers from the sides of the obelisk shaft. Early restoration attempts were not only unsightly but also made things even worse. On the verge of failure, a small group of alarmed citizens decide to raise money to save this important historic monument. With this purpose as initially its main goal, the Friends of Center Cemetery, Inc. was founded in 1988.

An expert condition assessment was commissioned in 1995 including a plan of first stabilization that would then be followed by a complete, multi-stage, state-of-the-art restoration. The monument was immediately consolidated and stabilized which allowed the remaining stages to be carried out in pace with fundraising without fear of further deterioration.

In the next stage the eagle was removed and transferred to the Community Cultural Center in a custom made display case for permanent viewing by the public where it can be seen today.

The final stage, alone costing almost $30,000, was a replica of the original eagle sculpted in a Barre, Vermont studio from a special type of granite purchased from a quarry in Iowa. The eagle replica was in place in 2010 in time for the 300th Anniversary of Center Cemetery.

The total restoration of this historic monument and very important symbol of civic pride cost over $100,000. With innumerable hours of volunteer labor, all of it was raised, at no cost to the town taxpayers, by Friends of the Center Cemetery through grants and such fundraising efforts as a number of successful Civil War Reenactments held at Wickham Park.