Thursday, May 23, 2013

Celebrating a Historic Treasure in Greencastle

Below is a guest post written in honor of National Historic Preservation Month by Phil Gick, chair of the Historic Assets Committee of the Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Heritage Preservation Society (HPS) of Putnam County, our purpose is to promote and encourage interest in the historic structures, history and heritage of the county, as well as facilitate the identification, preservation and restoration of our area’s structural heritage. 

A great example of our recent work is the ongoing effort to restore the Putnam County Civil War Monument (CWM) in Forest Hill Cemetery.  We were first drawn to this beautiful memorial in the fall of 2011, when we noticed its deteriorated state while planning tours of the cemetery.

Over the past year and a half, HPS, in conjunction with others within the county, has taken steps to raise awareness of the history of the monument, along with funds to enable the community to assess, stabilize and restore it. 

In celebration of National Historic Preservation Month, I’d like to share a little about the fascinating history of this structure:

In 1865, shortly after the Civil War, the Putnam County Soldiers Monument Association was formed, with the goal of building a monument to honor their local war heroes. By the spring of 1866, $5,000 was raised and a contract with T.D. Jones & Co. of Cincinnati was signed.  The proposed location would be the new Forest Hill Cemetery, and the design would be a statue that featured a figure atop a rather large pedestal. 

In 1867, McConnell & O’Hare of Cincinnati erected the shaft.  In 1869, O’Hare & Barry, who cut the soldier figure, saw to its installation atop the pedestal. 

On July 2, 1870, a crowd of 8,000 gathered in Peck’s Grove, a large group of trees to the east of the monument near Bloomington St., for the dedication of the nearly 30-foot tall monument.  Special trains, bringing guests from near and far, arrived from Terre Haute and Indianapolis.  Rev. Dr. Thomas Bowman of Indiana AsburyUniversity (now DePauw) offered the opening prayer.  One of the state’s best orators, Col. R. W. Thompson delivered the principal address.  General Lew Wallace of Crawfordsville, author of Ben Hur, spoke. 

Following the addresses, the crowd marched to the monument led by Indianapolis and Greencastle brass bands.  In front of the still-veiled statue, the dedication continued.  Veterans of the war, bearing their tattered regimental flags, encircled the platform, while Indiana’s governor and other important “VIPs” and clergy occupied a portion of the platform for the final ceremonial moments prior to the unveiling.

After its dedication, the monument remained a central element of memorial events conducted annually.  But over time, as the generation of those it commemorated passed, such activities tended to gravitate to the Court House Square, where new monuments to those who perished in subsequent conflicts were erected.

Many things make the Putnam County CWM special.  For example, it is only the third such monument of its kind erected in Indiana.  Unlike most, it depicts the “common” soldier; he is seated and looking to the West.  It is larger than most monuments and it was placed in a cemetery, instead of a central site, such as a downtown square. 

The CWM still conveys to those who see it the high esteem those within a small Midwestern community held the 321 fellow citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice.  It represents so much about not only the past, but of the spirit and patriotism of today’s citizens.  Hopefully these citizens will ensure the CWM continues to inspire future generations.

To make a donation toward the CWM restoration effort, please contact the Putnam County Community Foundation where HPS has established a Civil War Monument account.

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