Over Time, It Has Been Regarded As Greatest Civil War Monument, Or Traffic Impediment
By JULIE STAGIS
September 16, 2011
HARTFORD —— For 125 years, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch has been regarded as one of the greatest Civil War memorials in the country, a traffic impediment — and everything in between.
Although hundreds of motorists pass beneath the arch on Trinity Street each day, many may not know why it was built.
"Nobody knows what that thing signifies," said Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University and co-chairman of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission.
The commission and the Bushnell Park Foundation have scheduled a ceremony Saturday to rededicate the arch for its intended purpose — to honor the more than 4,000 Hartford men who served in the Civil War and the 400 who died in it.
PHOTOS: Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch
"What has been particularly interesting to me — we just finished a major anniversary of Sept. 11. Ten years," Warshauer said. "Everybody says 'Never forget.' Yeah? Will they? ...
"The way I've been describing it is that the Civil War was [that era's] 9/11. It strikes a chord with people. You can't fully embrace another generation's nationalism, but you can have touchstones in your history that can allow you to experience that kind of emotional importance."
The arch was first dedicated on Sept. 17, 1886. The New York World newspaper called the arch, which cost taxpayers $100,000 to build, "the finest soldiers memorial in the United States," The Courant reported.
More than 20,000 people came to the dedication ceremony in 1886, on the 24th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Gen. Joseph R. Hawley, the publisher of The Courant, spoke at the ceremony.
"It is an altogether useless thing, I suppose," Hawley orated. "It does not help the bridge.
"We do not see what anybody can do with it, save to walk between its towers. It is as useless as the rainbow or the glories of sunset, but I think it is the best investment Hartford has made since she gave her treasure to save the Union.
"To some it will always be silent; to others, successors of those who made a nation in 1775 and saved it in 1861, it will be forever saying cheerily, "Remember! Remember!"
The arch, made of Portland brownstone, was designed by Hartford architect George Keller, whose ashes reside alongside his wife's in the east tower.
A frieze on top was done by two New York-based sculptors. Samuel Kitson crafted the north side, which tells the story of the war. Casper Buberl did the south façade, which shows the peace that followed.
Albert Entress of Hartford carved the six, 8-foot-tall statues on the sides of the towers.
The frieze "is 175 inches long and 6 feet 6 inches high and bears, executed in bas relief, a procession of soldiers, cavalry, artillery and sailors; telling in a spirited and graphic manner the story of the war," according to a Jan. 22, 1884, Courant story about the chosen design.
"The towers seem like two huge sentinels guarding the bridge, or mighty standard bearers holding aloft a noble banner on which is emblazoned the deeds of the men of Hartford who died for their country on land and sea. …"
The towers were each topped with a terra cotta angel, both of which were removed by the city in 1974 after they were severely damaged, one by a lightning bolt. They were placed in a shed at Keney Park and destroyed in a fire there in 1983.
The Bushnell Park Foundation replicated the angels in bronze and replaced them as part of a $1.5 million restoration in 1987.
The arch originally spanned a bridge over the Park River, which was routed underground and covered in the 1940s to control flooding.
Decades later, the arch was more often criticized for being a nuisance to motorists. A 1948 Courant story told about the fading memory of the monument's meaning.
"Standing unnoticed and forgotten in the midst of Hartford's Memorial Day celebration is the Memorial Arch," the article said. Though Hawley's dedication speech said the arch would serve as "a perpetual memorial," it "is remembered only by the hordes of motorists who find it a daily traffic bottleneck."
Some "would like it razed altogether as an impediment to traffic along Trinity Street," a 1951 Courant article said.
Traffic problems continue to plague the arch.
In 2003, three cars crashed into the arch in separate accidents, causing considerable damage. The portion of Trinity Street under the arch was closed to traffic for just under a year following the last accident, but the closure made Trinity Street one-way, cutting off vital access to the Capitol, and it was reopened.
The Bushnell Park Foundation was formed in 1981, largely to take care of the deteriorating arch, said Joseph P. Williams, president of the Bushnell Park Foundation. It has undergone several repairs since it was erected, and the park foundation recently launched a new capital campaign to raise money to clean and restore the monument.
"The arch has always been one of the key focal points for the Bushnell Park Foundation," Williams said. "To us, it's one of the most, if not the most, important pieces of historical art in the state of Connecticut. It's the first triumphal arch dedicated to the sailors and soldiers who fought the Civil War."
"We'll be earnestly trying to raise money," Williams said. "We hope, by the end of the year, to raise $125,000."
The foundation was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which will be matched by the city, to hire an architect to plan necessary repairs, Williams said.
Saturday's rededication ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m. with Civil War re-enactors, veterans and military color guards marching from the Capitol to the arch. The proceedings will begin at 10 a.m. and feature speeches by Warshauer; Williams; Olivia White, executive director of the Amistad Center for Art and Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum; Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz and James Keller, Grandson of George Keller. It will conclude with a 21-gun salute. After the ceremony, tours of the arch and other historical sites in Hartford will be offered.
One of the events is a re-creation at the Old State House of the lying in state of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general to be killed in the Civil War. He died Aug. 10, 1861, at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, and his body was placed for viewing at the Old State House before burial in his hometown of Eastford. Re-enactors will be stationed on the Old State House lawn from noon to 3 p.m., and Civil War-themed tours will run throughout the day. The Old State House will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information on the rededication and other Civil War anniversary events, visit http://www.ccsu.edu/civilwar.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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