Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First Phase in Restoration of Amherst's Civil War Tablets Complete

Scott Merzbach recently published this report on the work of the Historical Commission.  I'll follow up shortly with a posting of my own.
from the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Civil War plaques restored in Amherst but remain mothballed
By smerzbach
Created 06/04/2010 - 04:00

AMHERST - Restoration is complete of six memorial plaques recognizing more than 300 residents who fought in the Civil War, but how and when these tablets get put back on display remains uncertain.

For close to a decade, town officials and residents have planned to get the large marble plaques, which include the names of black soldiers who were part of the famous 54th Regiment, installed in a public place so residents can once again view them.

Historical Commission Chairman Jim Wald said Wednesday that this process can now start with hiring consultants who know how best to display the memorials.

"With the conservation process complete, we're trying to find a place to store them and to take the next step to get engineering studies under way," Wald said.

Town Manager Larry Shaffer, though, said getting to the point where they can be shown will not be easy, but it is essential that this happens.

"It's an important project from a historical perspective," Shaffer said. "If we're going to celebrate history, we want them out so the public can view them."

All the plaques were commissioned in 1893 by the local Grand Army of the Republic post, a veterans organization for the Civil War. After being in various parts of Town Hall for close to a century, including the basement when it was the town's police station, the plaques were moved during mid-1990's renovations and have been stored at the Ruxton gravel pit in North Amherst since.

Last year, Town Meeting appropriated $65,000 in Community Preservation Act money, of which $25,000 was set aside for the cleaning and restoration work done by Monument Conservation Collaborative of Norfolk, Conn., a company that specializes in such projects.

Wald said the Historical Commission will continue to explore both interior and exterior displays, though if the plaques are put outside, an enclosure will be needed so the tablets are protected from elements and vandals.

The restoration, Wald said, included cleaning the tablets of a yellowish tint that formed from tobacco stains and varnish, and now the bright white marble surface has been restored. A black acrylic paint was used to ensure all names on the plaques are visible.

Another $20,000, Wald said, was appropriated for an engineering analysis and researching the design for a secure installation, with the final $20,000 appropriated for actual installation.

The marble tablets each measure 56 inches by 75 inches and weigh between 600 and 800 pounds.

Despite their size, they are considered delicate. "They are both heavy and fragile," Wald said.

Historical Commission members Michael Hanke and Elizabeth Sharpe looked at spaces throughout Town Hall for placing the tablets and didn't find any suitable areas where all of them could easily fit.

Whether the CPA money for getting the tablets displayed is sufficient isn't known. Shaffer said he may look into whether the town can use money left over from a brick repointing project at Town Hall to help pay for the safe display of the plaques.

Shaffer, who had hoped to have them displayed in time for the town's 250th anniversary last year, said his idea is that a smaller introductory tablet and one of the larger tablets that describes the Civil War dead could be placed in the first floor lobby at Town Hall, covered in protective Plexiglas. The remainder would go elsewhere in the building.

If the Civil War plaques go on display, it will be the culmination of a long process that began with the late Amherst resident Dudley Bridges, in 2000, who proposed getting the plaques back in a visible location.

In 2001, the Select Board considered putting the tablets in front of Town Hall, but later agreed with Bridges that they should be placed in a monument display at the Gates Lot, next to Sweetser Park on Main Street.

The 54th regiment was the subject of the 1989 motion picture "Glory," starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick. Their fame came following a July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C., where more than 100 men lost their lives.

[Postscript: I see that, as sometimes happens, I did not manage to do a follow-up at that time. Stay tuned.]

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