| New Britain |
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| || SOLDIERS' MONUMENT |
242 Main Street
New Britain, CT
Dedicated: September 19, 1900
Type: Classical limestone tomb crowned with bronze Winged Victory
Architect: Ernest Flagg
Contractors: M.J. O'Connor, James Muir, and Thomas Fahy
Engineer: Thomas S. Bishop
Height: Approximately 51'
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain, is significant historically because it is a tangible symbol of honor and respect tendered by the New Britain community to its sons who served in the Civil War. As early as October 12, 1868, the question of a Soldiers' Monument was raised at a town meeting, and referred to committee. The idea received encouragement from the Connecticut General Assembly, which voted in May 1869 to provide $15,000 toward a New Britain monument if the town went ahead with the project within one year. The town did not.
The matter continued to receive attention at town meetings on May 31, 1869, October 13, 1873, and October 27, 1873, at the last of which the committee reported it would be ill-advised to proceed because of the economic depression gripping the nation at the time. The next flurry of interest was spurred by a provision in the March 14, 1884, will of Cornelius B. Erwin giving $2,000 toward a monument if the town took action within one year. The Erwin estate was difficult to settle and time went by. Finally, at a special town meeting on August 13, 1885, it was voted to levy a tax for a monument. With public money assured, a committee was empowered to go forward with erection of a monument. How the design, architect, and contractors were selected is not recorded, but work was commenced in 1897. Cost was about $28,000, $21,957 of which was paid to the contractors, $2,422 to the architect.
The dedication ceremony was appropriate to the elegance of the monument. A grand parade included bands and marching units such as the Governor's Foot Guard (mounted), the Putnam Phalanx, and the Knights of the Golden Eagle. Governor George E. Lounsbury made remarks. General Joseph R. Hawley, ever-prominent at Civil War monument dedications, delivered an oration. Hawley opened his speech by saying, "I have just learned that I am expected to deliver an oration," a line that he used more than once on such occasions. Hawley made the usual reference to the consecrated memory of the soldiers but in addition, as was his wont, referred to the importance of the monument for contemporary citizens and emphasized current progress toward improvements in civil law, new schoolhouses, highways, and other elements of good government. The speeches of the occasion were recorded verbatim in a typescript which is in the collections of the Local History Room, New Britain Public Library.
Collations at five locations followed the public program.
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain, is significant artistically because it is the work of Ernest Flagg (1857-1947), turn-of-the century architect well-known for his Beaux-Arts interpretation of the Neo-Classical Revival style. Flagg studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, before opening his New York City office in 1891. Among his most famous works are the Singer Building and St. Luke's Hospital, New York, buildings for the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, and the Corcoran Art Gallery, Washington, D.C. All of these exhibit the large scale, comprehensive planning, and wide range of classical details that he writes about in his description of SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain.
In Connecticut Flagg received commissions for Immanuel Congregational Church (1899), additions to Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company (1897), and First National Bank (1899), all in Hartford. His Connecticut work was clustered within a two-year period. Flagg was the nephew of Dr. Samuel Waldo Hart, mayor of New Britain during 1872-1877, and brother of Charles Noel Flagg, Hartford portraitist. William F. Brooks, architect of Hartford's Municipal Building, 1915, who lived in New Britain and practiced in New Britain and Hartford, was employed for a time in Flagg's New York office. (See also WAR MEMORIAL, Worthington Ridge in Berlin.)
Flagg's design for SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain, displays the talents for which he was famous. It is unique among Connecticut Civil War monuments for its large size, comprehensive design, and many classical details--all features associated with Beaux-Arts training.
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain, is a large limestone memorial designed by Ernest Flagg in the tradition of Beaux-Arts classicism. It is the object of major interest in Central Park in the heart of downtown New Britain. The monument is dedicated to all from New Britain who served in the war.
A copy of Flagg's three-page description of his work was printed in the dedication program. He said that it was modelled after the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates at Athens (334 B.C.), which was round in plan. Flagg's square interpretation is in three parts, base, tomb, and attic, crowned by dome and figure of Winged Victory, which originally was gilt. Flagg in his description sets forth the classical design elements in detail and at length. He does not name the stone, which appears to be limestone but is sometimes referred to as marble. The name or location of the stone quarry is not mentioned in the literature about the monument. In similar fashion, neither Flagg nor the literature identifies the sculptor, foundry, material, or dimensions of the bronze Winged Victory.
The .8-acre park is long and narrow, dividing Main Street into two roadways. All of its area is paved or planted. The paved areas are bordered with serpentine lines of benches. The monument is at the north end, separated from West Main Street by three flagpoles, across from McKim, Mead & White's Russwin Hotel (now City Hall), whose design, similar to the Villard Houses, New York City, is an appropriate companion for Flagg's Beaux-Arts monument. A 2'-high granite retaining wall, using the same stone that forms the monument's base, surrounds the site. The four piers of battle names, each supporting two decorative metal lamps, are surmounted by stone spheres, while the attic's inset corners are filled with handsome bronze light standards (see SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury, for comparable light standards). Two-tier fountains, once fed by streams of water from the mouths of lions' heads, are on the east and west sides, below the engaged obelisks.
On the interior, within the wrought-iron doors, the lower zone of the base and the middle zone of the tomb are one space. Its walls are incised with many names of soldiers under the heading HONOR ROLL and with the names of the architect, contractor, and members of the building committee.
The figure, which Flagg does not describe in detail, is a female allegorical representation of Winged Victory, based on classical precedent. She stands with left foot forward, drapery of her clothing arranged behind her, with right hand and arm outstretched. Her face displays regular features under well-coiffed short hair. The widespread wings are held up and out in a commanding manner.
The figure of Winged Victory was re-gilded in 1950 and the monument cleaned in the 1960s and again in 1987, at which time the cost was $15,000. At present some of the joints in the base have opened up, metallic staining from the lighting fixtures is severe, and organic growth is widely evident.
Three granite steles incised with names of those who served in World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean Conflict stand on a raised paved terrace at the south end of the park.
Front (south) face, tablet in middle frieze, incised caps:OH RARE AND ROYAL / WAS THE SACRIFICE
Above, tablet in attic:WITH MALICE TOWARD / NONE WITH CHARITY / FOR ALL WITH FIRM / NESS IN THE RIGHT / LINCOLN
East, tablet in engaged truncated obelisk:THIS MONUMENT IS BUILT IN
GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF
THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS
WHO IN THE WAR TO MAINTAIN
THE UNION OFFERED THEIR
LIVES IN THE CAUSE OF MANKIND
THAT COMING GENERATIONS
TAUGHT BY THEIR EXAMPLE MAY
CHERISH THE FRUITS OF THEIR
VALOR AND DEVOTION AND MAKE
THEIR MEMORY IMMORTAL
Above, in frieze:FOR YOU AND ME THEY / PUT THEIR ARMOR ON
Above, attic:LET US HAVE PEACE / GRANT
North, frieze:FOR YOU AND ME THEY / STOOD IN GRIM ARRAY
Above, attic:LIBERTY AND UNION / NOW AND FOREVER / ONE INSEPARABLE / WEBSTER
West, obelisk:MDCCCLXI - MDCCCLXVERECTED BY THECITIZENS OF NEW BRITAINMDCCCXCIX
Above, frieze:THEY JOINED THE MORTAL / STRUGGLE AND WENT DOWN
Above, attic:TO HEROES LIVING / AND DEAR MARTYRS / DEAD / LOWELL
Four piers:(battle name in each block of stone, outboard faces, 8 battles per face, 16 per pier, 64 total)
Mardges Bacon, Ernest Flagg, Beaux-Arts Architect and Urban Reformer (New York: The Architectural History Foundation, 1986).
Kenneth A. Larson, A Walk Through New Britain, Connecticut (New Britain: The Art Press, 1975), pp. 43 and 44.
[New Britain] Daily News, September 19, 1900.
[New Britain] Herald, August 10, 1950; April 9, 1987.
Ransom Bio, pp. 43, 44.
J.W. Ringrose, comp., Official Souvenir and Program of the Dedication of the Soldiers' Monument, New Britain, Conn., Sept. 19, 1900 (New Britain: New Britain Record Print, 1900).
Typescript of speeches at dedication of Soldiers' Monument, New Britain, September 19, 1900. Local History Room, New Britain Public Library.
Town Green Survey, Statewide Historic Resource Inventory, Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, 1992.
Robert D. Yaro, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for 13-35 West Main Street and Central Park, New Britain, Connecticut (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1972).