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| || SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL |
8 Meetinghouse Lane
Dedicated: May 31, 1897
Type: Yellow brick Neo-Classical Revival building
Height: High one story
SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, The Green, Madison, is significant historically because it is an instance of a community's decision to construct a building rather than raise a monument as a Civil War memorial.
The initial action toward a memorial in Madison came as early as October 2, 1865, when the town appropriated $1,000 for a Soldiers' Monument. A committee was appointed, but the matter proceeded no further.
On July 4, 1894, as part of an Old Home Day celebration, 400 current and former residents of Madison gathered to consider again the question of a war memorial. A marked difference of opinion arose between those who wanted to erect a large monument on the Green and those who thought a hall was more fitting. The proposal for a hall was adopted and $5,000 was provided toward construction costs.
One of those who preferred a monument was Colonel Vincent M. Wilcox. After contributing generously to the fund for the hall, he independently raised WILCOX SOLDIERS' MONUMENT at West Cemetery, Madison, in 1896. Thus, Madison joins North Haven as a community harboring a difference of opinion on the question of hall vs. monument, but in the end, one way or another, erecting both.
On Dedication Day, May 31, 1897, SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL was "beautifully draped with national colors and bunting." It was a day for reminiscences and honors. Among those honored was Madison native Cornelius S. Bushnell, famed for his success with the iron-clad Monitor. (See SOS! Survey inventory form for Memorial to Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, New Haven.) His sons were in attendance.
One of the speakers, General John H. Meigs, observed that WILCOX SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, West Cemetery, and MEMORIAL HALL "are lasting and beautiful proofs that Madison is today as patriotic and true as in 1776 or 1861, and that the same love of God, country and humanity rules the heart and inspires the brain and the same bloods fill the veins of her loyal sons and daughters as it did then."
The principal orator, General and United States Senator Joseph R. Hawley, gave a historical and patriotic review of the late conflict. Hawley was a prolific speaker at Civil War dedications, usually giving his remarks a balanced and progressive twist not always found in the words of others. Here he said that a continuance of peace and a free country lay in a judicious use of the ballot box.
By contrast, the Reverend F.W. Mark, according to The Shore Line Times, condemned "croakers against the pension laws and likened them to so many frogs along the rush-grown bank of a stagnant pool."
SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, Madison, is significant architecturally because it is a good example of the Neo-Classical Revival style in fashion at the time. The 19th-century preference for Picturesque styles had given way to a resurgence of interest in classical precedents as set forth with great popularity at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The blocky massing, Ionic columns in antis, balustrade, Palladian window, and hipped roof all were in line with the new mode. Madison was up to date for 1896 in the design of its new building.
The sum of $13,500 to construct SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL was raised by combining public subscription with funds provided by the town, $8,000 by the town and $5,500 by subscription. Many of those who subscribed substantial amounts were Madison natives now living elsewhere. Specifications were determined by a building committee. The construction contract was given to Squire Holdworth of nearby Westbrook. Whether the committee or the contractor selected the architect, and who the architect was, are not known. The contemporary newspaper account implies that Lyman Ford, not otherwise identified, was associated with Holdworth.
SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, Madison, is a one story and high basement yellow brick Neo-Classical Revival building with marble trim and hipped roof, on high granite ashlar foundation. The 44' x 56' HALL faces south on the eastern edge of Madison Green, near other historic institutions such as Lee Academy and First Congregational Church. The HALL is a memorial to all Madison men who served in the Civil War.
The dark gray quarry-finished foundation is 7 1/2' high. Because of this height, steps leading up to the light gray granite portico at the truncated southwest corner have 13 risers. The entrance is framed by Ionic columns in antis under a pulvinated frieze with dentil course, surmounted by a balustrade. The front elevation is dominated by a tripartite window given a Palladian effect by a half-round recessed panel over the central section. Raised segmental lettering in the panel reads MEMORIAL HALL over the year date 1896. A stone stringcourse runs above the window and returns on the side elevations.
Two tripartite windows at first and second floors in both side elevations are arranged one under the other in tall two-story round-arched openings separated, floor-to-floor, by wooden spandrels. The truncated front corners of the building are articulated in the roof by wedge-shaped sections at the hips.
The entrance foyer to the building originally was open, but a glass screen has now been introduced to form an air lock. The foyer has a tesserae floor with reddish brown Greek key border. Tall round-headed marble tablets are mounted on the yellow brick side walls of the foyer, listing in incised caps names of Madison men who served in the WAR FOR THE UNION. Names are arranged by units, as "Co. C, 14th Regt, C.V."; the 8th and 5th Regiments also are represented. Each name is given a rank; one rank is wagoner, indicating service early in the war as the rank of wagoner was eliminated when operation of wagons was shifted from company and regiment level to brigade and above. The west tablet is signed at the bottom in incised italics, "Geo. A. Shelley / Madison, Ct."
Bronze tablets, with the names of those who served, initially were planned. When and why the decision was made to change to marble tablets, and when the marble tablets were installed, are not known.
Marble tablets of World War I names are mounted on the walls flanking the door. They are headed VETERANS / OF / THE WORLD WAR / APRIL 6, 1918 - NOV. 11, 1918.
A small yellow brick building adjacent to the northeast, constructed in 1874 and 1914, housed vaults for the town records.
Initially, the interior of SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL consisted of a single high story over the high basement. The space was divided into a large memorial entrance hall, 17' x 40', decorated with flags, pictures, and war relics, and an auditorium, 40' x 40', with a stage and 40' x 20' gallery for plays, concerts, dances, basketball, and the like. The interior was finished in Southern pine with fine hard-oil finish. In 1939, at a cost of $18,000, the interior was altered to town offices. The balconies were removed from the auditorium, a floor introduced, and the upper level rented to the Masons. The gold leaf lettering in the transom of the front entrance reading "Memorial Town Hall," as the building has come to be known, rather than the historically correct SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, was added in 1953 by Robert C. Terrell. In October 1994 the town offices moved to another location, leaving the building vacant.
Front (south) elevation, in panel over window, raised caps:MEMORIAL HALL / 1896
W. Phillips Barlow, Memorial to Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, SOS! Connecticut Survey Questionnaire (Washington, D.C.: National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, 1994).
Madison Assessor's field card.
Madison Bicentennial Pages, n.d., reprinted from The [Guilford] Shore Line Times, p. 5.
Philip S. Platt, ed., Madison's Heritage (Madison: Madison Historical Society, 1964), pp. 39 and 41.
David F. Ransom, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Madison Green Historic District, Madison, Connecticut (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1982).
The [Guilford] Shore Line Times, May 28, 1897, 1:3, il. and June 4, 1897, 1:2.
Bernard Christian Steiner, History of Guilford and Madison, Connecticut (Guilford: Guilford Free Library, l975), reprint of 1897 edition, pp. 461 and 462.