Connecticut's Civil War Monuments


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Bushnell Park
Ford Street
Hartford, CT

Dedicated: September 17, 1886
Type: Triumphal arch combining Gothic Revival, medieval, and classical features in brownstone and terra-cotta
Architect: George Keller
Sculptor: Casper Buberl, Samuel Kitson, Albert Entress
Contractors: Hiram Bissell, Augustus Budde
Terra-cotta supplier: Boston Terra-cotta Company
Height: 116'

Historical Significance

SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH, Bushnell Park, Hartford, is significant historically because it is a tangible symbol of the honor and respect paid by the City of Hartford to its men who served in the Civil War. It is one of the earliest monuments in Connecticut to use the term Civil War in its lettering.

George Keller, Hartford's leading 19th-century architect, nationally known for his Civil War monument designs, wished to create the monument for his hometown. A competition for designs, however, aroused his ire, and only after much time and negotiation did he receive the commission.

The first step toward creation of a Hartford Civil War monument, according to the Souvenir Program, came when "The Town of Hartford at an adjourned town meeting on October 21, 1879, appointed a committee [of five men] to ascertain the probable expense of a suitable monument to the Soldiers and Seamen who belonged to Hartford and who died in the service during the late civil war." Two of the committee members, Joseph R. Hawley and James L. Howard, seemed auspicious appointments from Keller's point of view because both were prominent Keller patrons. Unfortunately, this committee accomplished little and was replaced by another at a town meeting held on October 17, 1881. This time the ten-man membership included few names regularly associated with Keller. Further, the members had ideas other than simply to commission Keller to design the memorial; indeed, they proposed a competition in accordance with common practice of the time.

Keller noted in his "Reminiscences" his reaction to this move. "Having shown my ability in this direction, I felt, when my own town proposed to erect a monument to war soldiers and sailors that I should at least be consulted about the design. Instead of which it was decided to advertise for designs in open competition, offering $3,000 in prizes. I abstained from entering the competition."

On December 6, 1881, at the first meeting of the new committee, the Reverend Francis Goodwin, a member, "showed a pencil sketch of a bridge with an emblematic arch superimposed thereon and it was decided to consider the feasibility of such a structure" ("Reminiscences"). Goodwin, a wealthy cleric, was one of Hartford's most active citizens and himself an amateur architect. By proposing a bridge and arch, he started Hartford on the way to a Civil War monument constructively different from the conventional single shaft memorial so widely used in other cities. As Hartford's monument was to become perhaps the first permanent triumphal arch in the United States, the importance and originality of Goodwin's concept cannot be overstated. The Hartford arch predated the competition for the Grand Army Plaza Arch in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (1888) and Stanford White's Washington Memorial Arch at the foot of Fifth Avenue in New York City (1889).

The competition for the bridge and arch went forward. All designs were to use, if possible, the existing Ford Street bridge over the Park River at the entrance to Bushnell Park. The schedule of prizes, however, was scaled down: first prize became $500; second, $300; and third, $200. Fifteen entries, none of which has survived, were received for consideration by J. Cleveland Cady, an out-of-town expert engaged by the committee to evaluate the submissions. Judgment was reached and the prize money awarded. First place went to Clarence S. Luce, second place to Tryon and Brunner, and third place to Frederick C. Withers. From the spring of 1882 to the autumn of 1883 the committee undertook feasibility studies. It finally concluded that the winning design, even after modification, could not be executed within the $60,000 budget. One attempt to solve the problem was a post-competition project, especially commissioned to Withers, which envisioned a new bridge and entrance some distance northwest of the existing Ford Street bridge. This design called for a high roof, gables, towers, and Gothic arches, a structure that would be, in effect, a companion piece to the nearby State Capitol. Cost estimates, however, were again prohibitive. The committee was about to abandon the entire project in favor of a conventional allegorical figure in granite to be located elsewhere in Bushnell Park.

At this juncture, Keller, who had been following the proceedings, entered into negotiations with the Reverend Goodwin and Judge Sherman W. Adams, secretary of the committee. The first barrier to reconciliation between the committee and the architect was a matter of pique and protocol, as Keller was still put out that he had not been asked to submit a design. Adams blandly suggested to the ruffled Keller, "The way to get an invitation is to ask for one." Upon hearing the suggestion Keller commented:

This was a novel idea which had never occurred to me. I at once addressed a note to the committee as follows: "If the Hartford Memorial Committee has discharged all its obligations to the architects hitherto employed, and is at liberty to invite me to submit a design, I would be glad to do so."

Within a few days Keller received a formal invitation, and the Hartford arch was on its way.

Keller's ability to solve the problems of the Hartford arch and stay within budget limitations, which others had failed to do, is an example of his talent for tailoring his architectural skills to the practical exigencies of a particular commission. Here his solution was twofold. First, where all prior designers had positioned the arch in the middle of the bridge, Keller placed it at one end, on solid ground, making it possible to use the existing bridge and thereby lowering the cost of engineering expenses. Second, Keller substituted local sandstone and terra-cotta, as he was to do in Cleveland, Ohio, with the President James Garfield National Memorial, for the more expensive granite and marble contemplated by the earlier designs. Keller's initial scheme simply imposed an arch on the Ford Street bridge. The proportions of the roadway to the intended superstructure were considered poor. Keller improved these proportions by adding street-level walkways with castellated parapets around each tower of the arch and along both sides of the bridge. The walkways were corbeled out beyond the sides of the bridge, increasing the width of the roadway. Keller's innovations made it possible for the committee on May 21, 1884, to let the masonry contract to Hiram Bissell and Augustus Budde, who had earlier set the stonework of the nearby State Capitol.

Artistic Significance

SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH is significant artistically because it combines disparate architectural styles in an unusual but successful design. Medieval towers with conical roofs, a monumental Gothic arch, and a classical sculptured frieze seldom are found in one structure, as they are here. The result, somewhat surprisingly, is a Civil War memorial of dignity and unity, on a large scale.

George Keller (1842-1935) was an Irish immigrant who came to Hartford to work for James G. Batterson, the state's most prolific supplier of Civil War monuments. Keller worked primarily in what he called the "Modern Gothic" style; the arch is consistent with the mainstream of his practice. Keller had designed the Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Soldier Monument, Antietam, Maryland, while employed by James G. Batterson. After leaving Batterson, Keller won competitions for a monument in Taunton, Massachusetts, in 1874 (never executed), for the Civil War Monument in Manchester, New Hampshire (1879), for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Buffalo, New York (1882-1884), and for the Garfield National Memorial, Cleveland, Ohio (1885).

Contemporary critical appraisal of the Hartford arch ran to extremes. The Philadelphia Bulletin announced, "Hartford's arch is an innovation in the memorial business, and the admiration it excites should stimulate every other community not to imitate it, but to produce something original, designed by an artist of feeling and taste, as well as of technical skill." On the other hand, an anonymous commentator said in an undated, unidentified newspaper clipping found in Keller's scrapbook, "These towers belong to a period antedating the use of gunpowder in warfare; they are furnished with the arrows and bits and projecting corbeled galleries for hurling stones on assaulters. The structure is, in short, a piece of ancient Europe placed in modern America....There may be objections to such a cheap material as quarry-faced stone, without dressing, and the misnamed 'sculpture' of baked earth." In his scrapbook Keller collected both the sweet and the bitter.

A 20th-century comment on the Hartford arch was made by the distinguished architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The arch is "one of the very few examples of such a classical monument completely translated into Gothic terms, and not without real interest." (Architecture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, p. 188.)


SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH is located on the northern edge of Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford. It is a brownstone and terra-cotta structure in the form of a Gothic arch between two medieval towers joined by a classical frieze. The arch is dedicated to all men from Hartford who served in the Civil War.

When constructed, the arch was at the southern end of a pre-existing bridge over the Park River. The Park River is now underground, but the roadway of the bridge and its parapets are still in place, barely visible, and still in use as a street.

The familiar Civil War monument symbols identifying the four services are in the spandrels of the Gothic arch, anchor for navy and crossed cannon for artillery on the north, crossed sabers for cavalry and crossed rifles for infantry on the south.

The arch eclectically, indeed successfully, blends the elements of a Greek frieze, a pointed Gothic-Roman arch, and two Norman castle towers, as described by Jacobus:

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial stands at the south end of the Ford Street bridge, forming a gateway into Trinity Street. It is constructed of Connecticut brownstone save for the buff-toned terra-cotta of the frieze. The span of the arch is 3O feet, the full width of the street below at the time it was built. The arch is essentially Gothic, springing rather gracefully from two massive round towers, each of them 67 feet in circumference. Each tower is topped with a conical roof, terminating at a point 116 feet above the sidewalk, and surmounted by a "finial angel" playing a musical instrument--one a trumpet, the other cymbals. Within the towers there are stairways and spaces for recording the names of the fallen heroes. A walkway inside crenellated parapets connects the two towers. A decorative feature of these battlements, and facing each way, is the sculptured seal of the City of Hartford. In the spandrels of the arch south and north are shields carved with insignia of the infantry, cavalry. artillery, and naval forces.
Below the walkway, but still some 40 feet above the ground, the giant frieze is stretched across the street and around the towers. The bas-relief figures are life size. The frieze on the north and the frieze on the south are different in character, for they were independently executed by different sculptors. One frieze is separated from the other, at the east and west as they are carried around the towers, by a naval and a military "trophy" in sculpture. (The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin (April 1969) 33-42.)

The frieze on the north facade, by Samuel Kitson, tells the story of the war, starting on the right with a figure of General Ulysses S. Grant surveying infantry and cavalry on the advance, while on the left marines leap from a boat and rush upon the rear of the Confederates. Kitson (1848-1906), an Englishman who had studied in Rome before working in Boston and New York City, was well-known as the principal sculptor for the interior of the William K. Vanderbilt House in New York City. The south frieze, by Caspar Buberl, a frequent Keller associate, tells the story of peace. In it a noble female figure--the City of Hartford--surveys her citizens gathered to welcome the returning soldiers after they have struck their tents, put out the camp fires, and made their journey home.

The friezes were executed by the Boston Terra-cotta Company. General Montgomery G. Meigs (1817-1892), architect of the New Pension Building in Washington, D.C., where Buberl had done a much longer frieze, on December 19, 1883, wrote Keller a letter of recommendation, endorsing Keller's choice of material, contractor, and sculptor. "No material known to art is better adapted than terra-cotta to take the finest lines, touches, and forms of the sculptor's own hand....Terra-cotta in slabs, vases, sarcophagi, busts, and statues is found all over the seats of ancient empire too often broken by violence, never injured by decay....Nothing but deliberate violence used of purpose will destroy it.... Boston Terra-cotta Company...can be relied on.... Mr. Buberl has done his work admirably. Some of his groups in the marching army of the friezes of the Pension Building I believe to be unsurpassed as bas-reliefs in truth, spirit, and delicacy."

Six figures, three on each tower below the bas-relief, were completed in 1894. These sculptures, according to a description of the arch circulated at its 1886 dedication, were to be the "Farmer" with one hand on his plow and the other on his gun and five other figures in similar transitional poses--the "Blacksmith," the "Mason," the "Merchant," the "Student," and the "Carpenter." During the years between 1886 and the time of their execution, Keller made one change. The "Merchant" was replaced by an African American man who with one arm is breaking the chains of his bondage and in the other hand is holding a slate on which is inscribed the alphabet. Albert Entress (1846-1926) carved the statues. Entress, a Hartford sculptor, born in Rothenhurg, Bavaria, exhibited his work along with other Connecticut artists at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The 1876 city directory listed Entress as associated with "Entress and Ferner, Monuments." Later directories listed him under the heading of "architectural sculpture." Entress paralleled Keller in broadening his career from cemetery monuments to greater artistic endeavors. Keller commissioned Entress to provide sculpture for several of his buildings.

The Hartford arch was the first permanent triumphal arch in America. An unusual feature, perhaps unique in Connecticut, is the listing of the names of the architect and the sculptors in the southwest plaque. A second such arch in Connecticut, the William Hunter Perry Memorial Arch, Bridgeport, designed by Henry Bacon, dates from 1918.

Behind a simple iron door in the east tower of the Hartford arch are interred the ashes of Keller and his wife. A plain inscription reads:

George Keller
- architect -
Mary, his wife

Mrs. Keller in a newspaper interview several months after her husband's death recalled that Keller and his family "had a horror of cemeteries." This aversion had been apparent in 1889 when Keller declined Cedar Hill Cemetery's offer of a burial lot in exchange for some proposed architectural work. It seemed appropriate, consequently, for his ashes to be deposited in one of the public structures he had designed. He liked best the Garfield National Memorial, Cleveland, but as this monument was located away from his home city, his second favorite, the Hartford arch, was selected. Apparently a lifetime of endeavor largely associated with memorials, many for cemeteries, led Keller to conclude that he would prefer to spend eternity elsewhere.

SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH is in its present fine state of repair because it was rehabilitated in 1986-88 at a cost of $1,500,000, using state funds, Dominick C. Cimino, architect. At that time, the finial angels were replaced. Originally terra-cotta, they fell into disrepair and were removed ca.mid-20th century. The replacements are bronze, raising the question of how the metal, at this height, will receive proper maintenance.


Terra-cotta tablet on southeast side of east tower, raised lettering:


Terra-cotta tablet on southwest side of west tower, raised lettering:





Tiny incised caps:

BOSTON / TERRA-COTTA CO. / [illegible]


Leslie A. Colvin, "A Centennial Reminder of a War's Triumph and Tragedy," The Hartford Courant, September 16, 1986, B9.

Hartford's Outdoor Sculpture, Trinity College, 1981, pp. 39 and 40.

Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), p. 188.

Melancthon W. Jacobus, "The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford," The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 34(April 1969):33-42.

George Keller, "Reminiscences of George Keller, Architect, 1931-32." Stowe-Day Library.

Joyce L. McDaniel, "The Collected Works of Casper Buberl: An Analysis of a Nineteenth Century American Sculptor," MA thesis, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1976.

Ransom Bio, pp. 43, 64, and 65.

David F. Ransom, George Keller, Architect (Hartford: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1978), pp. 128-135, 156, 157.

"Souvenir Programme, Dedication of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, September 17, 1886, Hartford, Connecticut" (Hartford: E.S. Young).