Saturday, November 28, 2015

History of the G.A.R Monument

One of the most iconic fixtures of Junction City is the Grand Army of the Republic arch in Heritage Park. It shows pride in our community and pride in our soldiers.  But how many of you know how it came to be?
The story is rather heartwarming as you realize how our pioneer community pulled together to build a monument to the “soldiers and sailors killed in the War of the Rebellion” 1861-1865 more commonly known as the Civil War. It all started in the summer of 1897 when it was announced that 5th District G.A.R. reunion would be held in Junction City in September of 1898.  
By September of 1897 it was announced that F.A. Gardner, army architect at Ft. Riley, had drawn up a plan for the monument that was accepted by G.R.A post #132. “The monument is to be an arched design…built of native stone crowning the substructure with a copper-bronze statue of a volunteer solider, 8 feet high” the total height of the monument would be approximately 35 feet. A sketch of the memorial was reproduced in the 1900 Junction City High School yearbook. It depicts cannon on the right side of the solider and stacked arms on the left.
 It is interesting to note that when the memorial was erected rifles were originally displayed in stack arms, rifles standing on their stock in a tipi shape on either side of the solider. However these proved dangerous during windy days and were soon taken down.  
The cost of the memorial was expected to be between $1,600 and $1,800. The community quickly banded together to raise the funds. John Davidson, who had served as a Major during the Civil War, was in charge of fund raising. Community leaders and businessmen pledged between $10 and $25 for the memorial. Churches and lodges sold “monument buttons” with the proceeds going towards the monument. The largest donation came from the local school children who raised $116 in coins.           
The stone was quarried right here in Geary County. Resident stone workers constructed and shaped each stone under the direction of local contractors Ziegler and Dalton. The entire project was funded and carried out by residents of Geary County.
By the summer of 1898 residents efforts had paid in dividends. The cornerstone was laid during the 4th of July celebration. Inside was placed a box with items to inform the future of the events of 1898 such as a copy of the Daily Union, letters, mementoes of the construction of the monument and a dispatch announcing the destruction of Cervera’s fleet as well as the capture of Santiago.   
Workmen hurried to finish the memorial for the dedication and unveiling scheduled for September 9, 1898. The town was a frenzy of activity preparing for the G.A.R. reunion and the unveiling of the monument. A large tent was erected in the center of the park for the soldiers programs. Merchants up and down Washington Street decorated their windows with patriotic scenes. The local Women’s Relief Corps organized meals for the veterans.  Rooms were secured free of charge to the soldiers at the Bartell House across the street from the park.
On the day of the unveiling school was dismissed so the students could attend the ceremony. They had worked so hard to raise funding for the monument that it would have been a shame for them to miss the unveiling.  1200 students, dressed in their Sunday best, waving American flags led the parade down Washington Street to the Park.  
Major Davidson opened the ceremony and presented the Memorial Arch to the G.A.R. post #132. Dr. J.K. Miller of the Methodist Episcopal church gave a dedication prayer and the school children, accompanied by the city band sang “America” and the” Battle hymn of the Republic”. As the program wound to a close Cora Davidson pulled the cord to unveil the silent solider that stood guard over the memorial.
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate for the remainder of the reunion and rained out many of the scheduled activities.  However, the community rallied for the veterans by securing the Methodist and Presbyterian churches for the remainder of the activities.

Next time you are walking in Heritage Park take a minute to admire the memorial and remember those that came before us.