Tag Archives: Civil War monuments

Civil War Monuments of Old Abington and Bridgewater

Looking forward to Memorial Day, I recently hunted down monuments in the northwest part of Plymouth County–in Old Bridgewater, long since split into three towns and one city (Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, East Bridgewater and Brockton) and Old Abington, off of which Rockland and Whitman split in the 19th century. The monuments in these seven towns range from 1874 to 1912 and cover the three typical styles: architectural (obelisks and columns), tablets in memorial buildings, and representations of soldiers. I present them here in chronological order. Why not take a moment on Memorial Day and seek out the Civil War memorial in your city or town?

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East Bridgewater Monument, built 1874

East Bridgewater: Located  on the Town Common at the junction of Central Street and Plymouth Street, the monument was dedicated on September 17, 1874. The Soldiers’ Aid Society of the town supplied the nucleus of funding to build it. The total cost was $4,000. The primary inscription reads, “Erected by the Citizens of East Bridgewater in Memory of their Townsmen, Who in the War of 1861-65, and in the Service of the United States, Gave their Lives that the Nation Might Live.” It is in keeping which the simple architectural style of earlier monuments, lacking statuary. An article in the Boston Journal proclaimed it a “plain yet perfect thing.” It records the names of East Bridgewater’s 47 men lost in the war. Congressman Benjamin Winslow Harris, a native of East Bridgewater, gave the keynote address. He said he would not spend time in “rehearsing the history of the war” or indulging in “the tempting theme” of the “valor of our soldiers.” Instead, he wanted to make “especial personal mention…of the soldiers whose names are inscribed upon the tablets of this monument.” His comments are all the more meaningful given his local roots and the fact that he knew most, if not all, of the men whose names are listed. Two, he said, died in Andersonville, 18 in battle, 22 of disease. Of them only six found burial “among their ancestors or within their native soil.”[1]

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West Bridgewater Monument, built 1879

West Bridgewater: Located at Central Square, the monument was dedicated on July 4, 1879 at a cost of $3,500. It records the names of 30 from West Bridgewater lost in the war. The primary inscription reads, “In Memory of the Citizens of this Town in Memory of Her Sons Who Lost Their Lives Defending the Government during the War of 1861-1865. Let Us Have Peace.” The speaker during the dedication exercises was Horace Binney Sargent (1821-1908), a distinguished veteran who was Commander of the Massachusetts Department of the GAR.  As eloquent as his words were, the significance of the occasion were perhaps best summed up by the president of the day, Rev. D.H. Montgomery. The fallen, he said, “all fought a good fight—all died that the republic might not suffer harm, and that in the blood they shed this nation might be baptized into newness of life. This sculptured shaft of granite will perpetuate their memory and will testify to this and to succeeding generations…Let us bear in mind that they took the sword not to make war but to secure peace—that true and permanent peace which rests on equal justice to all. What they bequeathed us, it is for us and for our children to maintain.”[2]

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Bridgewater Public Library, dedicated 1882

Bridgewater: Tablets in the entryway of the Bridgewater Public Library, 15 South Street, dedicated Memorial Day, May 29, 1882 (the building was constructed in 1881 and designed by architects Rotch & Tilden of Boston). The tablets, made from Knoxville, Tennessee marble, record the names of 36 Bridgewater soldiers who gave their lives. The cost was $1,200. One of the three original rooms of the library was dedicated to the display of war relics. After ceremonies in front of the library, attendees proceeded to the First Congregational Church where Hon. George Augustus Marden, editor of the Lowell Courier gave an address. Marden enlisted as a private right out of Dartmouth College in the 2nd US Sharpshooters and quickly rose through the ranks to 1st Lieutenant. After the war, he was a successful journalist and Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. A eloquent public speaker, he campaigned extensively for Republican candidates and spoke for many national organizations. A transcript of his address at Bridgewater (as far as I have been able to determine) does not survive but the Boston Journal noted it was received with “great applause which his remarks well merited.”[3]

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Rockland: Tablets and rotunda in the Rockland Memorial Library, 20 Belmont Street. Soon after Rockland split from Abington in 1874, the town government took measures to secure $2,500 for a monument dedicated to those Old Abington residents who lived in the area recently incorporated as Rockland. In reporting to historian, Civil War veteran and politician Alfred S. Roe, who assembled a large catalog of Massachusetts Civil War monuments in 1909, Lewis Reed, Adjutant of the Hartsuff GAR Post in Rockland, noted that, after 30 years, the $2,500 was eventually used by the town for memorial tablets in the library–rather than for a soldiers’ monument as originally intended. “It is proper to here state,” Reed wrote, “that to some of the veterans, this use of the funds, raised strictly for monumental purposes, was not at all agreeable.” The cornerstone of the library was laid December 12, 1903 and the structure completed in 1905. A $12,500 grant provided by Andrew Carnegie (one of many such donations he made for new libraries across country) made the building possible. Newspapers of the era recorded that laborers and local members of the active socialist party of that era stood against accepting money from a giant of capitalism and resisted the project at town meeting. They were, however, a small minority. The tablets in the beautiful entryway and rotunda list the names of those who served with one tablet reserved for “Our Unreturned” or those casualties whose remains were interred in battlefield cemeteries or never recovered.[4]

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Brockton Monument, built 1907

Brockton: Located in Perkins Park, 42 North Main Street, the monument was dedicated on November 12, 1907. During the war, the town was known as North Bridgewater. The name changed in 1874. The Women’s Relief Corps of that city secured the necessary $4,000 for the monument through subscription. The nucleus of the fund was provided by Galen Manley (a successful commercial farmer of Brockton) and the rest raised by the WRC chaired by Mrs. Mary E. Alger. She personally raised nearly $1,000. About 5,000 people assembled for the dedication ceremony. As the Springfield Republican reported, “The whole city unit[ed] in one of the most inspiring ceremonies in recent years. Public buildings were gay with flags and bunting. The stars and stripes waved from every peak.” The statue is unusual in that it depicts a soldier in the act of loading his rifle, rather than the more common pose of parade rest.  Former Governor William L. Douglas gave the keynote address. Sadly, the Perkins Park of today is not a safe place to visit. The location and the illegal activity there have posed a challenge to city officials for decades.[5]

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Whitman Monument, built 1908

Whitman: Located in Whitman Town Park on Park Avenue. The park itself was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The monument was dedicated on October 10, 1908. Originally, the monument was to be entirely granite with the customary soldier depicted at parade rest. The monument committee changed their minds and greatly enhanced the memorial by opting for a bronze statue in a unique skirmish line stance. Built by Long & Sanders of Quincy, the cost was $5,000. Clarence Merton Keevey, commander of Whitman’s George A. Custer Camp No. 11, Sons of Union Veterans, was the driving spirit behind the fundraising effort. He was the son of Peter Keevey, an Irish immigrant who settled in Plympton, served in the 31st Massachusetts Infantry and became a prominent sawmill owner and businessman. During the dedication, the monument was unveiled by beloved veteran Hiram Poole aged 85 and an active participant in civic events throughout the region. Marching as a member of the GAR, Poole was known to set the pace for the younger Sons of Union Veterans who were often winded in trying to keep up with him.[6]

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Abington Monument, built 1912

Abington: Located at the entrance to Island Grove Park, the dramatic Memorial Bridge and Arch was dedicated on June 10, 1912 as part of the town’s bicentennial observances. The Grove, before the war, had been a popular meeting place for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Abby Kelley Foster, and Lucy Stone were among the many prominent reformers who spoke here. Capt. Moses Arnold, a veteran of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, donated a large marker in 1909 to commemorate the abolitionist meetings at Island Grove. Shortly after, as commander of the GAR Post, he led the effort to create the Memorial Bridge and Arch. The cost was $23,000. Arnold, who was seriously wounded in the Cornfield at Antietam, led a postwar career consistent with the classic American Gilded Age tales. Just 21 years old in 1865, he began with a small shoe shop. By 1875, he had built a large factory in Abington and ran one of the largest shoe manufacturing operations in New England. The stunning eagle atop the arch was sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt whose notable works include the statues of Art and Science outside Boston Public Library. Attendance during the dedication was estimated at a remarkable 10,000. This was likely due to the fact that, up until a few days before the event, President William Howard Taft was scheduled to attend as the keynote speaker. He cancelled and Congressman Robert O. Harris gave the keynote address in his stead. As part of the town’s tricentennial observances, residents voted to appropriate funds to restore the monument in 2012. Work was completed and the arch rededicated in 2015.[7]

[1] “The Boys in Blue, Dedication of a Soldiers’ Monument in East Bridgewater,” Boston Daily Advertiser, September 18, 1874, 1; “East Bridgewater Soldiers Monument the Dedicatory Services Orations by Hon. W. B. Harris,” Boston Journal, September 18, 1874, 4.
[2] “West Bridgewater, A Gala Day for the Historic Old Town,” Boston Herald, July 5, 1879, 5; Roe, Monuments, 120
[3] “Bridgewater Memorial,” Boston Journal, May 31, 1882, 5; Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, tablets and other memorials erected in Massachusetts to commemorate the service of her sons in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865, (Boston: Wright and Potter Printers, 1910), 34; William Richard Cutter, editor, Historic homes and places and genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1908), 392.
[4] “Construction of Rockland Library to Begin at Once,” Boston Herald, July 23, 1903, 7; Roe, Monuments, 99.
[5] “Fine Brockton Monument, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial,” Springfield Republican, November 13, 1907, 6; Roe, Monuments, 35.
[6] J.H. Beers & Co., Representative men and old families of southeastern Massachusetts, containing historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the old families, (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1912), 1404.
[7] Sharon Orcutt Peters, Abington, (Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2002), 80; “Dedicates New Memorial Arch,” Boston Herald, June 11, 1912, 16.