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| || WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT |
Winsted in Winchester, CT
Dedicated: September 11, 1890
Type: Granite medieval tower with roof-line bronze standard-bearer
Architect: Robert W. Hill
Sculptor: George E. Bissell
Foundry: Henry Bonnard Bronze Company
Contractor: Stone & Wooster
Stone supplier: Stephen Hurd
Height: 63', 10"
WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Winsted in Winchester, is significant historically because it is a tangible symbol of the honor and respect tendered by the Winchester/Winsted community to its sons who served in the Civil War.
As often was the case, initial impetus for the monument came from the local unit of the Grand Army of the Republic, Palmer Post, No. 33, in Winsted. As early as 1870 the post held a fair that raised $1,078.09 toward the memorial and inaugurated "much bickering" over its eventual location (De Mars, p. 70). A bequest of $1,000 was largely responsible for increasing the fund to $2,574.05 by the mid-1880s.
Then, in the spring of 1887, after years of discussion but little action in the community, the construction program suddenly fell into place. The crucial development was the offer of William L. Gilbert, proprietor of the Gilbert Clock Company, Winsted's largest industry, to donate $4,000 to the monument fund. His offer was declined, for reasons unknown, but the offer and its refusal must have been the subject of much local comment. In any event, John T. Rockwell, who operated a tannery on Main Street, was moved to make a challenge gift of two acres of hilltop land on what is now Crown Street, contingent on the building fund being increased to $7,000. Henry E. Gay, cashier of the Hurlbut National Bank, promptly met the challenge. Others gave an additional $3,000, and the contract was let for construction of the tower. Proposed cost was $7,500, which turned out to be about half the final cost.
The organization to which Rockwell gave the land was the Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park Association. It appears that this association took active charge of getting the monument built. The General Assembly chartered the Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park Association by Special Act 239, passed on April 27, 1887. The association was formed to receive donations of land and money and erect a monument or monuments to the memory of soldiers of Winchester in the War of the Rebellion. No funding was provided by the state. The association was effective; it carried out erection of the monument in Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park. The association continued to own the property until it was transferred to the Town of Winchester in 1909.
Palmer Post, No. 33, at its April 5, 1887, meeting appointed a committee of eight to confer with a "committee of citizens" and authorized the trustees of the post's monument fund "to subscribe the amount in their care to a subscription for a monument when the same may be presented to them." Thus, the G.A.R. turned over the project to the Memorial Park Association.
Unfortunately, the records of the Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park Association have not come to hand. How much discussion of the monument design had taken place over the years since 1870 is unknown. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the idea of a tower, so well suited to the hilltop site, would have been forthcoming in advance of the gift of the site early in 1887. Consequently, the conjecture is that the choice of design and the selection of architect and sculptor were decisions taken by the Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park Association in the spring of 1887.
As the monument neared completion, elaborate plans were put in place for Dedication Day on September 11, 1890, and a great day it was indeed. The town was extensively decorated for the event. Four professional decorating firms from Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Brooklyn, New York, for fees ranging from $5.00 to $30.00 per structure, "fairly smothered" the buildings for two miles along Main Street "with festoons of banners, bannerets, with flags and shields" in the national colors of red, white, and blue (The Hartford Courant, September 12, 1890). The crowd on hand for the event was variously estimated at 10,000 to 20,000 people, many of them brought to town by special trains. Before the ceremony, luncheon for 3,000 was served in the rollerskating rink by the collation committee of 80 women.
The delegation of visiting dignitaries was led by Governor Morgan G. Bulkeley. In the parade the position of honor was accorded to veterans of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, "The Old Litchfield County," 450 strong. Other participants in the line of march included eight G.A.R. posts, military units, bands, guests, town officials, and 100 carriages. The principal oration at the dedication ceremony was delivered by the Honorable Samuel Fessenden of Stamford, Civil War veteran, lawyer, and politician, who discoursed at length on the debt due those who fought in the holy cause against the slave-holders' rebellion that sought to destroy the Union. The final third of the dedication ceremony had to be cancelled because of rain.
In newspaper accounts of the event, the Courant's headline was "WINSTED'S GLORIOUS DAY," while the The Winsted Herald's report began with the words, "Well, it's all over now. It is probable that the monument's dedication was the best attended and most elaborate civic event in the history of Winsted" (The Winsted Herald, September 12, 1890).
In 1983 a campaign to rehabilitate the tower awakened renewed widespread community interest in WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT. In retail establishments throughout the city containers for donations were marked with the legend "Help Restore Our Soldiers' Monument." The fund-raising campaign, planned by ex-mayor Francis "Pete" Hicks, was led by the Winsted Lodge No. 844, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and included such organizations as Kehow Tribe of Red Men, Winsted Fire Department, Girl Scouts, Italian-American Women's Club, Winchester Volunteer Fire Department, Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, Crystal Rebekah Lodge, Greenwoods Garden Club, Conservation Commission, Catholic Women's Club, Clifton Lodge, Garibaldi Society Auxiliary, and American Association of Retired People. A local Civil War monument commission has continued care of the site.
WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Winsted in Winchester, is significant artistically because it is designed with imagination and success to take full advantage of its site and effectively serve its purpose. The Gothic Revival tower is Richardsonian in its massiveness and rough masonry material, yet it soars skyward from the hill top, using a tourelle to thrust a rakish soldier figure well above the crenelated roof line. The monument is a testimonial to the combined creativity of two talented Connecticut designers, Robert W. Hill of Waterbury, the architect, and George E. Bissell, formerly of Waterbury, the sculptor. Their joint work places the memorial in the top rank of artistic creations among Connecticut Civil War monuments.
The outstanding success of WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT derives from the skillful use of the Gothic Revival, which is an architectural style in the Picturesque aesthetic, with a picturesque site. The castellated parapets are most appropriate for the military theme. The site is outstanding for its hilltop topography and for its location above but close to the city. The size of the site, two acres, called for a large structure, and the square 3-story granite tower eminently fulfills the requirement.
In working out the relationship of site, building mass, and architectural style, the designer used the wall along the front of the site to knit the components together. The stone fence with its fanciful central entrance structure establishes the site as an integral part of the memorial as a whole. The use of this Picturesque approach to the design problem was several decades out of date in terms of architectural fashion, but nonetheless led to a successful solution.
The foregoing considerations of site plan, mass, and style presumably were the contributions of the architect, Robert W. Hill (1828-1909), although there is no record of the deliberations in the matter. In selecting Hill as the architect, the Winchester Soldiers' Memorial Park Association turned to a man in the neighboring city of Waterbury who conducted a long and active practice. Hill spent his entire life in Waterbury except for several years as a young man when he studied architecture in New Haven with Henry Austin, who was a leading practitioner in the 19th-century Picturesque styles, and then worked briefly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hill's many commissions included the Connecticut state armory at Waterbury, the courthouse at Litchfield, the opera house at Thomaston, and buildings for Taft School, Watertown. Hill also designed SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Woodbury.
George E. Bissell (1839-1920), himself a Civil War veteran, designed several Civil War monuments, including SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury, and COLUMBIA/UNION/FREEDOM, Salisbury. His monuments always displayed individuality; he never resorted to the standard figure of a soldier with rifle standing on a pedestal. The Waterbury monument (1884) is large, consisting of a stepped plinth leading up to bas-relief bronze panels, above which rises a tall die with sculpture on each face, the whole surmounted by a colossal female figure. Bissell is credited with the entire concept, and it therefore may be that he had input in the Winsted concept. In any event, his stylish figure of a standard-bearer, arm akimbo and sword at an angle in what is almost a swashbuckling stance, fits well the romantic and picturesque theme of the Gothic Revival tower.
Bissell was born in New Preston, Connecticut, lived in Waterbury as a youth, and then moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was engaged with his father and brother in a marble quarry business. He began to model, and in 1875 went to Europe to study sculpture, where he lived for some years. But he was in Winsted on September 3, 1890, to oversee the placing into position of his statue, just a week before the dedication ceremony. Among his long list of works are the fountain at Hudson, New York, statues in Trinity Churchyard and in Madison Square, New York City, and a statue in Edinburgh, Scotland, of Abraham Lincoln and a slave.
Depth and quality of local resources are highlighted by the stone, from a quarry at nearby Highland Lake owned by Stephen Hurd, and the workmanship of the local contractors, Stone & Wooster. The design, materials, and craftsmanship of this exceptionally fine and little-known work all attest to the remarkable artistic and practical resources of provincial Connecticut.
WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Winsted in Winchester, is a tall square granite Gothic Revival tower located high on a hill overlooking the City of Winsted and the Town of Winchester. A standard-bearer with arm akimbo stands above the battlements of the crenelated roof line, proudly looking out over the valley. The architectural design is unique among Civil War monuments in Connecticut. The memorial is a splendid commemoration of the 300 Winchester men who served in the Civil War.
Built at a cost of $14,000, the tower properly dominates its hilltop site. It has a tourelle at one corner that supports the bronze figure of a standard-bearer sculpted by George E. Bissell. The wall that runs in front of the site and the covered central entrance way in that wall, sheltering steps that lead up to the monument, repeat the material and details of the structure. The well-thought-out composition gives the two-acre site a sense of overall integrity.
The granite for the monument was supplied from Stephen Hurd's quarry on nearby Highland Lake. Stone & Wooster, a local firm, was the masonry contractor, and E. B. Parsons did the carpentry work. The first stone was laid without ceremony late in October 1889. The granite is an uncommon color said at the time to be a "pinkish cast when viewed close up" but to appear "greenish gray" from a distance (Courant, September 12, 1890). The rock-faced ashlar walls are flared at the bottom and tapered toward the top. Some of the individual stones are as large as 56" long, 15" high and, at the base, 26" deep. The tower is 20' square at the base, 15' square at the top. Two cannon flank the door on the west elevation, toward the city.
At the first floor a paneled wooden door, now metal-clad on the exterior, faces west toward Main Street, some 400 feet away. It replaces a 1905 bronze door depicting scenes from the Civil War, which was lost to the World War II scrap drive. Each of the other three elevations has a single window comparable in size to the door, now with iron bars. At the second floor the two windows of each elevation, instead of being rectangular as at the first, have Gothic arches. Oak panels are in place under the arches as part of the window frames. There are three such windows at the third floor on the north and east elevations; on the west and south sides one window is displaced by the tourelle. The windows were planned to have stained glass.
A castellated parapet rises above the roof line, with the embrasures and merlons of its battlement capped by dressed granite slabs. The roof is covered with bitumen. The top of the parapet is 44' above the ground. The tourelle is corbelled out at the southwest corner, toward the center of the city. It supports an 8' 3" bronze figure of a soldier bearing colors. The top of the colors staff is 63', 10" from the ground. The 2,000-pound statue, 88% copper and 12% tin and zinc, cost $2,500, and was cast by the Henry Bonnard Bronze Company, New York.
The wall construction is a sandwich of stone, brick, and concrete. The exterior stone, as seen from the ground, is 8" thick, except at the base. The surface visible from the interior is concrete, also 8" thick. Between the two is a central core of 12" of brick. This masonry fabric is solid, with no weep holes or air spaces. Deterioration addressed in the 1980s was caused by water getting into the walls via leaks in the roof, without opportunity to drain or evaporate.
On the interior, the three floors of the monument are 15' x 15', of concrete. On the first floor there is a fireplace in the northeast corner. It has a brick firebox with wooden mantel in simple classical design of round columns (one is missing), plain frieze, and molded shelf. A marble dedication tablet is fastened to the east wall. A wooden stair in a single run with winders at bottom and top rises against the south wall of each floor. Five marble tablets on the walls of the second floor are incised with the names of almost 300 men from the town who served in the Union forces.
The third floor is plain but is of interest because the construction of the roof, shallow brick arches on steel beams, may be observed. Such a technique often was used in the latter part of the 19th century when fireproof construction was an objective. The stairway continues along the east wall to a trapdoor to the roof. The trapdoor is made of simple wooden boards with gaps between them that until the mid-1980s allowed water to cascade down the stairs.
A wall made of the same granite as the monument runs along Crown Street, at the front of the site. The piers of the wall have a flare like the monument's. The entrance to the site is accented by a central small castellated structure that resembles the monument in details. It has large pointed-arch apertures, and low buttresses on the front. Granite steps run from the street through this structure and on up to the monument. Across Crown Street from the entrance, Summit Street is laid out on town maps, leading to Hillside Avenue, but Summit Street never was built and is simply open land. West of Hillside Avenue is a right-of-way, shown on the map as Hillside Place, leading directly down to Main Street. At one time the grand scheme was to have steps from Main Street up to the monument, using the right-of-way and Summit Street. The difference in elevation is 400 feet.
A macadam drive runs in a U from Crown Street easterly around the monument and back to the street. The area to the east of the monument, and below it in elevation, is woodland, while house lots abut the site on the other three sides.
Front (west) wall of tower, caps incised in stone tablet over front door:SOLDIERS / MEMORIAL
In 1978 a fountain was built near the monument, to its south, designed by Andrew Coppola, sculptor, of Hartford. Construction of the fountain made use of funds accumulated from an 1890 bequest for the purpose. The $1,000 left by Marie Brown in that year for "erecting a suitable fountain to supply water to preserve the natural beauty of the (Memorial) Park grounds" had earned $18,000 in compounded interest over the years. These funds were augmented by a $3,000 grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.
The basin of the fountain is 18' in diameter and 3' high. In its center a truncated cone supports a section of a sphere on which rests a crescent. The cone and sphere are fashioned of Westerly, Rhode Island, red mahogany granite and the crescent from gray/black basalt. The basin is concrete. In the hydraulics planned for the fountain, a nozzle in the crescent was designed to spray an aerated ball of water/mist, but the hydraulics system never has been fully operational. Landscaping and walkways radiating from the fountain, designed to integrate it with the monument and site as a whole, never were executed.
Frank H. DeMars and Elliott P. Bronson, Winsted and the Town of Winchester (Winsted, 1972), pp. 70, 104, 109, 113, 182.
The Hartford Courant, September 12, 1890, l:7, 2:2; and May 16, 1990.
Palmer Post, No. 33, G.A.R., Minute Book. Winchester Historical Society.
David F. Ransom, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Winchester Soldiers' Monument, Winchester, Connecticut (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1984).
___________, Winchester Soldiers' Monument (Winsted: Soldiers' Monument Restoration Committee, 1985).
Special Act 239, April 27, 1887, Private Laws and Special Acts of the Connecticut State Legislature, vol. 10, p. 708.
Special Act 61, April 14, 1909, Private Laws and Special Acts of the Connecticut State Legislature, vol. 15, p. 651.
Winchester Land Records, volume 28, page, 549; 28/551.
Town of Winchester, town meeting records, vol. 5, p. 107.
The Winsted Herald, April 8, 1887, p. 3 and September 12, 1890.