| Bethel |
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| ||SOLDIERS' MONUMENT |
Dedicated: May 30, 1892
Type: Embellished gray granite stele
Designer, fabricator, supplier: Miller & Luce
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Bethel, is significant historically because it is a symbol of the honor and respect paid by the Bethel community to its men who died in the Civil War. Dedication Day on May 30, 1892, was marked by a parade and suitable ceremonies. The memorial is referred to in contemporary accounts as a soldiers' monument, even though its lettering reads SOLDIERS & SAILORS.
A public subscription raised the first money for SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Bethel, but it was only a few hundred dollars. A town meeting appropriated $1,000. Total cost of the monument and preparing the grounds came to about $17,000. Source of the additional funds is not known. Henry A. Gilbert was chairman of the monument committee and marshal of the dedication parade.
A special train from Danbury helped bring in the crowd of several thousand people on Dedication Day. Houses along the parade's route were decorated with flags and bunting. Danbury's James E. Moore Post, No. 18, Grand Army of the Republic, 75 strong, was followed in the line of march by Sons of Veterans, Bethel Drum Corps, Pavia Council, Knights of Columbus (28 men), and firemen's units. The Reverend Henry L. Slack and the Reverend George F. Waters made speeches. Their remarks praised the patriotism of those who fought, saying that the sons of Bethel were freemen compared to the slaves of Athens, the monument was dedicated to men and ideas rather than trade and barter, and the monument "shall suggest all that was best in the soldier's sacrifice, all that is prophetic in human liberty" (The [Danbury] Evening News, May 31, 1892).
The speakers pointed out that the 13 men whose names are incised in the monument were buried in unmarked graves in the South, and mentioned "the graves of two or three Confederates in this yard" (not otherwise identified).
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Bethel, is significant artistically because it is an example of vigorous imaginative stonecutting. The principal feature of raised scroll as a field for the dedication lettering is unique in Connecticut. The trophy at the bottom of soldier's arms and accoutrements is in unusually high relief, almost three dimensional. The console and quarter-round sunbursts introduce classical references appropriate to the date in the 1890s. The two sides of the dado that are simply rock-faced are dramatic, and also without parallel in Connecticut. The monument was supplied by Miller & Luce, of West Quincy, Massachusetts. How the firm was selected and what considerations led to the unusual design are not known. It was recognized, however, that the design was unusual; the newspaper commented: It is a most appropriate design for a soldiers' monument and is all the more commendable from the fact that it is something entirely new and original in design, as well as of great beauty.
Since both are unusual and outstanding, SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Bethel, invites comparison with MONUMENT TO SOLDIERS IN UNKNOWN GRAVES, dedicated two years later, in 1894, at nearby Wooster Cemetery, Danbury, by Solon Borglum. Both memorialize soldiers buried in unmarked graves in the South. Bethel's memorial does not have the artistic quality of Borglum's work, but nonetheless is a highly successful, vigorously articulated piece of work. Its roughness and bold proportions bespeak the gifted vernacular of a quarry staff rather than the sophisticated aesthetic of Borglum.
The roadway from South Street enters Centre Cemetery through a stone gateway, proceeding for 40' or so to a point where it separates into a Y. SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Bethel, is in the apex of the Y. The grade falls off dramatically behind the monument, giving it a commanding position in the landscape. The monument consists of a base and tall stele with elaborate carving. It is dedicated to Bethel men who died in the war, whose names are incised in the stone.
The plinth is rock-faced. Above the plinth, the base has a single riser whose top surface describes a sharp upward cavetto curve. On the front, a central angled flat surface superimposed on the curve supports a raised trophy of crossed rifles with bayonets fixed, crossed sabers, accoutrements, and bed roll. Above, the bottom molding of the dado is marked by a row of nine incised vertical lines.
The front face of the dado displays the monument's principal design feature. It is a raised image of a parchment scroll suspended from a rod. A tasseled cord hung over a round insignia above, which is flanked by leaves, supports the scroll, while tassels fall from the ends of the rod along the sides of the scroll. The bottom of the scroll is rolled. The lettering recorded below is incised in the polished surface of the scroll. The stele's cornice is a broad cove in which an eagle is raised as part of the Shield of the United States, serving more or less as a capital under a central rounded pediment or gable. The top of the monument is pyramidal.
On the west side a pyramid of 14 granite cannonballs is supported at the base by a central classical console. The face of the stele above is quarry-finished. Near the top, four raised polished stars embellish the frieze under a cornice cove decorated with two quarter-round sunburst-like motifs. The Shield of the United States is central in the cornice. On the south, the polished panel with lettering (recorded below) is surrounded by a narrow quarry-faced border, consistent with the fully quarry-faced finish of the west face. On the south, five stars rather than four, since the pedestal is wider than it is deep, fill the frieze. There are two quarter-round sunbursts in the cornice cove. The east face is a duplicate of the west.
The monument weighs 17 tons. Its dark gray color is characteristic of stone from Quincy quarries. Nothing is known of the firm of Miller & Luce.
Front (north) face of dado, caps incised in polished surface:IN MEMORY
SOLDIERS & SAILORS
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES
IN DEFENSE OF THE UNION
South, caps incised in recessed polished surface:(14 names with units)
James Montgomery Bailey, History of Danbury, Conn., 1684-1896 (New York: Burr Publishing House, 1896), pp. 526, 527.
History of Bethel, 1759-1976 (Bethel: Bethel Historical Society, 1976), pp. 17, 18.
The [Danbury] Evening News, May 31, 1892.