One hundred years ago, the Lancaster chapter of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic established a memorial outside the Lancaster Opera House to veterans of the Civil War.
Two cannons from that war were mounted at the entrance to the opera house, along with a plaque explaining their significance.
The cannons stood there for about 30 years until they were donated to a World War II scrap drive. The plaque was removed, and thought lost to history, but recently rediscovered in the basement of the Lancaster Historical Society.
Now, with this nation marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Lancaster resident Albert E. Martin believes it’s time for the town to honor its veterans from that bitter conflict with a ceremony and rededication of the 1912 plaque next year.
“There were a lot of people who served in that war from Lancaster,” Martin, a mechanical engineer who retired from Dresser Industries, said in an interview last week.
Ed Mikula, the town historian, said about 25 residents of the Town of Lancaster enlisted to fight during the Civil War, and more than 200 veterans of the conflict moved to Lancaster in the years after the war.
The local chapter of the Ladies of the G.A.R., all relatives of Union soldiers, erected the plaque and the cannons in 1912 on cement bases on either side of the Central Avenue entrance to the town offices in the opera house.
Martin, who is 84, and Mikula, who is 88, remember seeing the mounted cannons as boys but, during World War II, the cannons were removed and scrapped for the war effort, a patriotic act, but one that Mikula regrets today because of the cannons’ historic value.
The plaque presumably came down at the same time or soon after, ending up in Town Hall before town officials gave it to the historical society sometime in the 1950s, Mikula said. The society lost track of the plaque.
The town did receive two World War II-era cannons, which were recovered from the German Army and meant to replace the scrapped Civil War cannons. The new cannons were mounted in Veteran’s Park, a small park in the village that honors Lancaster veterans from all wars, not just from the War Between the States.
Martin views this as a glaring oversight, and he complained this spring in a letter to Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli that the town should hold a remembrance ceremony and dedicate a monument to those long-dead veterans.
“We are in the second year of the sesquicentennial of that war and, as yet, Lancaster has no memorial to those who fought and apparently no plans for a remembrance celebration,” Martin wrote. “My hope is that the sesquicentennial will end with our heads held high rather than hanging low in shame for doing nothing.”
Soon after Martin wrote his letter to the supervisor, Martin’s brother, Francis, a member of the board of the Lancaster Historical Society, dug through the society’s holdings in its museum on Clark Street and found the 1912 plaque in the museum’s basement.
Albert Martin brought the plaque to a Town Board work session in May, when he made his case to Fudoli and the other board members, who agreed to set up a committee to plan the remembrance and find a new location for the plaque. Town officials later returned the plaque to the society.
Fudoli said last week that the town likely will appoint the members of the committee after Jan. 1, and he likes Martin’s idea of holding the dedication ceremony on Nov. 19, 2013, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Martin and Mikula said they would like to see the 1912 plaque mounted on a stone or boulder in front of Town Hall again or at the Lancaster Rural Cemetery, the Hull Family Home & Farmstead or the town’s Youth Bureau and Senior Center complex.
“Somewhere in town,” Martin said. “It’d be nice where people could see it.”