Welcome to the month of May’s edition of the History & Heritage Center. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.
We continue to be hopeful in making the armory our new home; the mold and asbestos problems have not been eliminated due to lack of insurance monies. The Brownfields, Phase I was started the week of April 22nd. Check out our web site, stjhistory.org, for past articles and other information about Center. Our phone number is 424-1090 and our office is located in the Summer Street School building.
It is hard to miss the marble lady “America” that resides in Courthouse Park. She stands on a granite base that is twelve feet high and she rises another seven and a half feet. Just the sight of this monument should raise curiosity to check her out. It is St. Johnsbury’s Soldiers’ monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Civil War
In the warning for the March 6, 1866 meeting, an article was inserted regarding the erection of a fitting monument to the memory of the soldiers of the town who were killed or died while in the service of the country during the Civil War. At the meeting, Calvin Morrill of the Board of Selectmen called upon Albert Chadwick to explain the article. He reported that there was a willingness among individuals to support the funding of a Civil War monument should the town be willing to contribute one half of the cost. A committee consisting of Horace Fairbanks, Gates B. Bullard and A.J. Willard was voted to work to “ascertain the probable cost of a suitable marble monument…”
Larkin G. Mead, Jr., an American sculptor was contracted to do the statue for the sum of five thousand dollars. It was to be done at his studio at Florence, Italy and to be of the “purest Italian marble.” A word about Larkin: although born in Chesterfield, N. H., his family moved across the river when he was about four years old. His youth was spent in Brattleboro before he went to work in the studio of Henry Kirke Brown of Brooklyn. His talents are seen in Montpelier where in 1857, he finished the original statue of Agriculture for the dome of the Statehouse. Following that piece, he completed the statue of Ethan Allen for the portico of the Statehouse and inside can be found a large bust of Lincoln by the artist.
Another contract was entered into with Peter B. Laird of West Danville for supplying a granite foundation and pedestal for the statue to stand on. On each side of the pedestal is a tablet in the shape of a shield where the names of the soldiers were engraved. This was completed during the fall of 1867 and the spring of 1868. The plan for the monument was executed by the architect, E. Grebble of Philadelphia. The final cost of the monument was $8,892.46.
The summer of 1868 saw the arrival of the statue “America” in this country. The ceremonies in St. Johnsbury took place on the 20th of August. The statue had been raised the day before but not uncovered. The participants included the Selectmen, the Monument Committee, Gilmore’s brass band of Boston, as well as Masonic organizations; six horses pulled a car with thirty- six little girls dressed in white representing the states of the Union; carriages filled with disabled soldiers, friends of lost soldiers, returning officers and soldiers and speakers made up part of the parade as did fire companies and citizens.
In Claire Dunne Johnson’s volume I of I See By the Paper , the Caledonian reported the story of M.S. Parker who was present at the parade and had been a color bearer for the Vermont 10th Regiment . During one of the battles, the flag had been nearly torn from its staff and Parker had taken a lace from his shoe and tied the remnants together and attached them to the staff. The flag had been brought from the Statehouse for the parade and when Parker saw it, he shouted, “Hurrah! There’s my old shoe string,” And so it was!
Introductory remarks were made by Hon. Charles Dana; the names of the soldiers were read by Major E. D. Redington and Horace Fairbanks unveiled the statue “America” which was greeted by a few moments of silence followed by cheer after cheer from the crowd. Larkin Mead, the sculptor was introduced and greeted with applause. Music and gun salutes also welcomed the monument.
Taking a few moments to stand and reflect on this monument and reading the inscription on the side facing Main Street “In Honor of the St. Johnsbury Volunteers who Sacrificed their lives in Defense of the Union, “reminds us of the many lives that were given for the cause.
As was the story in so many towns, St. Johnsbury’s loss of lives was great. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is ongoing and the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center will honor some of its fallen in a Civil War Ghost Walk on August 18th at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery at 7:30 p.m.