MEDIA —With Civil War monuments in the news recently, particularly those situated in the South, it is interesting to reflect on local monuments in our area. One of these, Delaware County’s Memorial to the Civil War, known as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, features a Union soldier leaning on his rifle atop a 30-foot column and is located on the east side of the Delaware County Courthouse facing Olive Street. The story of its creation is of particular interest during these times.
Archived news reports from the Chester Times reveal that the movement to build the monument began around the turn of the 19th century, when Edward Blaine, a "comrade" of Wilde Post, No. 25, Grand Army of the Republic of Chester and an an elected member of the Board of County Commissioners, signed a petition for the monument, giving the effort some clout. In 1902, Bradbury Post, No. 149, GAR in Media, also took up the call for the monument.
According to the 1894 issue of the Biographical and Historical Cyclopedia of Delaware County, Blaine was raised on a farm in Middletown and was a plasterer by trade. He was in charge of the plastering on the Pennsylvania Training school in Elywn. His call to duty is described thus: “When Fort Sumpter was fired upon and the trifarious wave of mingled consternation, indignation and patriotism swept over the north, kindling into blazing enthusiasm that love of country which forms one of the corner stones of character among our people, young Blaine laid down his trowel, as Putnam left the plow, and without waiting to see what others would do, at once enlisted under the Federal standard, becoming a member of the first company in the first regiment of Pennsylvania reserves.”
He fought in the battle of Antietam and was seriously injured by a minnie ball which passed through his left leg, inflicting a wound that compelled him to remain in the military hospital for three months.
The matter of the monument was passed upon favorably by two grand juries. Bids were invited and commissioners awarded $10,000 to the firm of MacDonald & Buchan of Barre, Vt., in July. The firm employed 30 men in the manufacture of all kinds of granite, but made a specialty of carved and drapery work, according to records on the website http://quarriesandbeyond.org.
The cornerstone for the monument was laid on Oct. 30 in the presence of the county commissioners, Grand Army men, and a number of citizens, but veterans requested no celebration until its dedication in the spring.
A copper box, 8-1/2 inches high and wide and 18 inches long, was placed in the southeast corner of the monument and included among other important documents: The names of 4,724 sailors and soldiers who enlisted from Delaware County for the War of the Rebellion 1861 to 1865; a flag of the United States; a sample ballot; a 1902 voter’s guide; a horseshoe forged by Comrade Chas. H. Pedrick; newspapers; The Ahiman Rezon (also known as the Constitution of the Masons of PA); photos of the Courthouse, the Home of Incurables, Chester Hospital, House of Refuge, County Home, courtroom with court in session; and Smull’s book for rules on government.
The monument itself arrived by rail from Vermont in January 1903 and required three train cars to ship the massive shaft weighing over 500 tons. Officials said it would take 30 horses to move the stone but decided against taking it over the railroad bridge at Orange Street for fear it might cause too much strain upon the structure. It would instead be taken to the lumber yard of Ball & Rhodes and unloaded from that point. The load was moved over Washington Street and up Orange to the courthouse.
The 42-foot monument sits on a 7 feet 4 inch square base seated upon a larger 10 square foot square. The soldier on the top stands 12 feet high. A wrought iron fence enclosed the monument at the time. In February 1903, two 37 millimeter Spanish revolving cannons were given to the county on loan from the Norfolk Navy Yard and were included in the monument. This was less than five years after the Spanish-American War.
The Delaware County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument has a similar style to Civil War monuments across the country. Monuments were often sold through catalogs and they featured many of the same figures, young soldiers with blank expressions. Salesmen sold the same styles to both North and South, changing small details such as belt buckles and the length of jackets.
According to a 2017 story in the Washington Post, as many as 2,500 soldier statues were erected in the North and about 500 in the South.
“This celebration of ordinary soldiers was a revolutionary break from the classic commemoration of great men on horses,” said Sarah Beetham, an art historian at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who has studied the mass production of Civil War monuments told the paper.
May 9, 1903, the day of the dedication, arrived to much fanfare, starting with a parade comprised of three groups. Officials estimated 12,000 people were present, the greatest number of people ever in the borough up to that time.
The Chester Times reported that "the boys in blue marched as they did in ’61." As Colonel Henry Clay Cochrane said in making his address on behalf of the Navy, "The men who fought so valiantly for the unity of the country had to be told that they were getting old, and that their ranks were fast becoming depleted. They showed no evidence of being old in the line of march on Saturday and stepped to the strains of the music with heads erect and looked every bit the soldier.”
Cochrane, a Chester native, was a Marine who served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and other military incidents including the Boxer Rebellion, the Panama Canal and the Philippine Insurrection.
The soldiers were followed by firefighters including those from Media Fire Co., with over 100 men in line. Their hose carriage drawn by two white horses belonging to the undertaker William C. Rigby was much admired, as was the new ambulance of the Clifton Heights Fire Protective Association.
After 4 p.m., a surging mass reached the courthouse for the unveiling. Thomas J. Dolphin, chairman of the committee and chief marshal of the parade, started the exercises which included several hundred school children from the Media public schools who, under the leadership of Miss Henrietta Smedley, sang a patriotic song. Catherine Gorman, a little girl, assisted with the cornet. The band played “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Captain Caleb Hoopes, 87 years of age, the oldest living veteran in the county and dressed in full regalia, pulled the strings which released the unveiling as the audience sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and hundreds of little flags wafted through the air from the top of the monument. These were eagerly sought by those about the shaft.
It was a surging mass of humanity, but there was one drawback to this part of the program. The bands at the heads of the various organizations were arriving and playing continuously, and few aside from those standing right near the grandstand could hear the speakers. At one point, O.B. Dickinson, Esq., was speaking just as Post 51, of Philadelphia, was firing off its cannon nearby the monument, and it was with difficulty that the learned gentleman could make himself heard by those in the stand.