Ashland Civil War Monument

Ashland Civil War monument by David Ruellgiven as part of a talk on Ashland’s War Memorials on October 12, 2011, for the Ashland Historical Society

The Manchester newspaper said in 1899 that a monument had been “the desire of the Patriotic people” of Ashland for some years. But, it was first mentioned in the local news in early 1898. In January, the Women’s Relief Corps decided at the first meeting of the year “to have the soldiers of this town properly recognized by a suitable monument”. A February Ashland Item article said it was the intent of the Corps to help purchase a monument for the Soldiers lot in the cemetery, but that location was not mentioned again for two years.

An article was placed “by request” in the warrant for March 1898 town meeting “to see what sum the town will vote to raised and appropriate for a soldiers monument” apparently at the request of Col. Thomas P. Cheney. At the meeting, Cheney made an appeal on behalf of the Grand Army of the Republic and WRC for the town to raise $1500 to be used with $300 to be raised by the WRC and $200 to be given by GAR. The meeting voted the $1500 to be raised by borrowing. It was a large sum for the time, as the entire sum raised annually for the town and school taxes varied between $8000 and $12,000. The meeting chose Col. Cheney, Frank L. Hughes, and Edward P. Warner, all Civil War veterans, as a committee to work with the GAR and WRC to erect the monument. Nothing was said in the vote about where the monument was to be located.

Private fundraising was successful. The GAR gave the $200, its entire treasury. The WRC held several fundraising events, a masquerade ball, an “old-fashioned spelling skule” entertainment, a supper, and a four-act play. An appeal was sent to former residents. The annual reunion of the 12th NH regiment was held in Ashland in September. The committee for entertaining the regiment found that they had a surplus of $130, so they proposed to donate that to the WRC for the monument, although they said in a newspaper notice that anyone who had contributed to the reunion fund could have his prorated share of the surplus back if they wanted.

The monument committee worked on the names to appear on the monument, issuing a list of 84 names in February 1899 and asking for changes. Ultimately they dropped four of those names and added three new ones, ending up with 83 names on the monument.

The committee consulted with various monument firms, who supplied them with proposals. They chose the design of John Swenson of West Concord. A stone trade magazine published in Concord announced in its March 1899 issue that Swenson had just secured the contract for the soldiers’ monument in Ashland. The description the magazine gave is essentially the monument we see today, two bases, the die with bronze tablets on four sides, listing the soldiers’ names on three sides and the committee’s names on the rear, the die topped by bartizan corners surmounted with four polished balls, an 11-foot tall column with a composite order capital and topping it all a 7-foot high bronze statue of a soldier at parade rest. The granite work was presumably done at Swenson’s shop in Concord. We don’t know where the bronze statue came from. Its source is not mentioned in the newspapers or in the surviving records of the company.

In April, the same magazine said the firm was making good progress on the monument. The contract called for its completion by May 20, 1899, and it was erected in late May in the Town Hall yard.

The monument was dedicated on May 30, 1899, Memorial Day, with a parade from the Baptist Church to the Town Hall, remarks by Col. Cheney who was president of the day, a prayer by the Methodist minister, remarks by the Episcopal priest, unveiling of the statue, songs by Martha Dana Shepard, music by Ashland cornet band, the main address by Col. Daniel Hall of Dover, presentation by Frank L. Hughes from the committee and acceptance by Selectman Samuel Baker. At the close, the audience sang America. Later in the day, regular Memorial Day exercises were held with a parade, speeches at the Town Hall, and a march to the cemetery to decorate graves.

The story of most Civil War monuments in New Hampshire pretty much ends at this point with the dedication. But we were only getting started, as the town launched into a controversy about the location of the monument which would make it, for a while at least, one of the best-known monuments in the state and the region.

The monument committee wanted to make the Town Hall yard a public park, with trees and seats on the lawn around the monument. Col. Cheney wanted the state to erect a monument to Hercules Mooney in the new park. But many people did not like the site. On May 20, the Ashland Item reported that a petition was being circulated that the Soldiers Monument should be erected on part of the J.F. Keyes estate near the post office, that is to say on the small triangle of land on Main Street now housing the town flagpole. 182 voters signed the petition, including nearly all the members of the GAR Post. The argument for the site was that the downtown location would be more visible and the monument more likely to be seen by travelers. The arguments against the new site were that the property had to be bought and there was no money for land purchase; the soldier’s head would be staring out of a network of wires, and there was no chance for quiet around the place and no room for shade trees or seats.

Still, the movement against the Town Hall site grew “until it assumed momentous proportions”, but the committee persisted in erecting the monument at the Town Hall. So, on May 24, another petition was presented to the selectmen asking for a special town meeting on June 6 to consider moving the monument. The special meeting voted 118 to 0 to move the soldiers’ monument “to some suitable and proper place on Main Street and appointed a three-person committee, Dr. Alonzo Garey, Moses Tucker, and Mrs. Belle Carpenter to move the monument, with the costs to be paid out of money raised for current expenses. The meeting also voted to erase the names of the old monument committee if that could be done, if not to remove the plate with their names on it and throw it away and put it on a new plate.

But the new committee was soon stopped short by an injunction. Col. Cheney later explained that he knew that, under state law, a special town meeting could not appropriate money unless a majority of the voters of the town voted at it. So he advised his supporters to stay away from the town meeting. Soon, a petition from Col. Cheney, Frank L. Hughes, and ten others was presented to Judge Parsons arguing that only 118 of the 369 legal voters had voted at the meeting, that the town owned no land on Main Street, and that no authority for buying land or taking land by eminent domain had been given to the new committee. Therefore they asked for an injunction, against moving the monument, making any changes to it, buying land, or spending town money on the project. The judge granted the injunction on June 13, one week after the town meeting.

In November, the new monument committee appealed the injunction but was turned down. An attempt was made in the spring of 1900 to get the new and old committees to meet, but the new committee did not trust Col Cheney. By a strange twist of fate, the flagpole triangle came under Cheney’s control because of the death of a relative of his wife. His opponents began to think of other sites, including its present location in Monument Square.

The 1900 annual town meeting warrant had four articles on the monument and another related article on the fountain in Monument Square. The first article was to rescind all votes of the special June 6 town meeting. Col Cheney argued the adoption of the article to end the whole controversy, but it was defeated on a vote of 95 to 162. The meeting then voted $450 to move the monument to some suitable site on Main Street and to reaffirm the previous vote creating the new committee, which was authorized “to procure, at the expense of the town, a suitable site on Main street by purchase or otherwise for the erection of said monument”. But no eminent domain powers were given to the new committee. Tempers have cooled somewhat, the meeting did vote to rescind the June 6 vote to remove the old committee’s names from the monument. The meeting also voted to move the drinking fountain from what is now Monument square to the corner of Mill and Main streets, freeing a possible site for the monument. The Manchester Union said that other sites begin considered were the cemetery and the top of the hill on Thompson street overlooking the square.

The first choice of the townspeople was today’s flagpole triangle. Moses Tucker of the new committee did approach Col Cheney in May about putting the monument there, but Cheney refused. There are differing accounts of this conversation. Tucker said Cheney threatened to shoot anyone putting the monument there. Cheney denied that claim and said he had just talked about a landowner’s right to prevent others from occupying his property without permission. The flagpole triangle did not become town property until 1935 when a later owner donated it to the Town at the request of Ashland Woman’s Club.

The committee then turned to its second choice, then known as Custer square, later as Monument Square. It was considered not as good a site as the triangle, but it was a conspicuous site, as most travelers then came to town by train and would pass by the monument as they entered the commercial downtown area. Work began on the new site on May 15. But the controversy was not over yet. Petitions opposing the location were circulated, leading to a lively meeting on May 18, but the new committee stood firm on its choice. Col. Cheney called the site “a mudhole in the main thoroughfare”. The GAR Post unanimously adopted a resolution calling the new location “the most unfit and most objectionable of any that has been made “ and the moving of the monument “a lasting disgrace upon the fair name and fame of our town”, but the monument was moved. By May 25, the Manchester paper could report that the monument had been disassembled in the Town Hall yard and the new foundation in the square was nearly completed. The monument was erected on May 28. In June, a stone curbing was placed around the monument and the entire square was paved with concrete. This was unusual at the time, as while the town had some concrete sidewalks, all the streets were still dirt. It was not until 1903 that the first public highways outside the square were paved, from the railroad station via Winter and Mill streets to Main Street than on Main Street past the monument to the Baptist Church. The total cost of moving the monument in 1900, including the new curb, was $411.50 with the rest of the appropriation, $38.50, being given to help cover the costs of paving the square.

There was talk at the time by the opponents of the move of moving it again, and over the years there had been talk of moving it to improve the traffic flow in the square. The 1983 downtown improvement plan proposed moving the monument closer to the Thompson street apartments on its own little plaza. In the Plan NH Charette held in 2011, which included a possible roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Riverside Drive, it was suggested that the monument be put in the center of the roundabout, which would move it to about where the original movers wanted to put it. So far no action has been taken on any such proposals. One of the ironies of history is that since 1959, when railroad passenger service ceased, no one comes to town by train anymore. People come by car and mostly use Route 3 or I-93 and the monument is essentially on a side street, more traveled than Highland Street, but not the main road by any means.

In 1969, the town meeting voted to adopt a new town seal featuring the Civil War Monument, which was designed by Jim Rollins as part of the Centennial celebration. This shows the continuing importance of the monument to the Town. Jim did show the monument in an imaginary park setting on a lawn with trees around it, which is neither the Town Hall yard nor Monument Square. I never asked him why.

By the end of the 20th century, the need for restoring the monument became apparent. The statue and to a lesser extent the plaques were corroded from the effects of acid rain and snow. The granite was soiled, and even parts were missing. One night in 1981 or 1982, three of the four granite balls had been taken by parties unknown. They were just resting on iron pins and could be lifted off. The last ball was then removed for safekeeping.

In November 1998, conservator Clifford Craine of Daedalus Inc, a Massachusetts conservation firm, examined the monument. His report was paid for by the Historical Society, the Woman’s Club, and the Town. He noted that the metal of the statue was starting to pit and needed work soon, the plaques and stonework needed cleaning, and the balls should be replaced.

In January 1999, the Historical Society had a special meeting to consider Craine’s report and decided to ask selectmen to put in a warrant article for $6000, one-third of the estimated $18000 cost. The society asked other groups to join in the effort to raise the remaining funds. The Woman’s Club, Legion Post, and Auxiliary, Squam Lake Grange, and the Rebekkahs joined the Historical Society to form the Ashland Civil War Monument Committee, with the Historical Society (with its tax-exempt status) serving as the committee’s fiscal agent. The March 1999 town meeting voted the $6000 for an expendable trust fund for the monument. The private fundraising was successful. The Ashland Woman’s Club held a concert of Civil War music. The most profitable fundraiser was a duck derby at the 1999 Day in the Park which raised $5471. Direct donations were received from individuals, businesses, foundations, organizations in the community, even a High School reunion committee.

The first step was the cleaning of the granite by Pemi Baker Memorials in October 1999, with some residual stains attacked again in April 2000, They also removed the old iron pins that held the balls. We didn’t realize how dirty the monument was until it was cleaned. In May 2000, an impressive scaffold was erected around the monument, which was protected by jersey barriers loaned by Mike Latulippe and installed by the town highway crew. Three conservators from Daedalus Inc worked on the statute and the bronze plaques from May 3 through 7.

The last step was the reinstallation of the four granite balls. One ball was recovered in April of 1999 when Kendall B. Hughes was doing yard work around the house on Thompson Street he had just bought. Under the porch, he found an old plastic bag that had the granite ball inside it, so it had apparently traveled less than 300 yards from the monument. This raised hopes that the other two balls might be found. One theory was that they had been thrown into the Squam River. This led to a search by divers, but nothing was found. Some rumors were pursued. The committee made an appeal for the return of the balls and offered a $100 reward. Two former Ashland residents who heard about the search thought they might be able to locate the balls. They begin negotiations who whoever had one ball. Not sure if this would produce any results the committee had two replacement balls ordered by Pemi Baker Memorials from a Barre Vermont granite firm. But when we heard that the secret negotiations were successful, we reduced the order to one ball, so one ball was made from granite from the same Concord quarry that John Swenson used. It was such a perfect match that it could not be distinguished from the originals. The replacement ball was delivered on June 23, 2000. The missing ball was returned to us through an intermediary on June 24. They did not ask for the reward but did ask for $57 to pay for shipping the ball from wherever it had been to New Hampshire. On July 1, Pemi-Baker Memorials installed the four balls on new stainless steel pins and cemented them into place at no charge to the committee.

The total cost of the restoration was $14,443 – $6064 from the town fund (with interest) and $8379 raised by the committee. The monument was rededicated on the afternoon of July 4, 2000.  Among the participants were the  6th NH Volunteers, a  group of Civil War re-enactors who took part in the 4th of July parade and had an encampment in Memorial Park. The program included Civil War songs, the history of the monument, the acceptance by Selectmen Mike Landroche, readings, the roll of honor, laying of a wreath, the audience singing America the Beautiful, a rifle salute, and the playing of Taps.