Restoration work under way on Civil War Monument

Thursday, April 20, 2017
More than five years in the making, restoration of the Civil War Monument is under way at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. The 29-foot-tall monument stands as a memorial to Putnam County soldiers who fought in the epic War Between the States. But pieces of the historic structure are crumbling and cracks are appearing as the monument nears its 147th anniversary. Daniel Mathias (above) and Jeff Cash of Blakley Corp., Indianapolis, expect to be on site for the month-long restoration project.
Banner Graphic/ERIC BERNSEE

What began in the fall of 2011 with local historians thinking maybe if they wish and hope and pray it might come true -- or wouldn’t it be nice -- has evolved into the good vibrations of actual restoration work on the Civil War Monument in Greencastle’s Forest Hill Cemetery.

Banner Graphic/ERIC BERNSEE

More than five years later, a crew from Blakley Corp. -- the Indianapolis general contractor who won the bid to restore the historic monument -- has been on site since Tuesday, beginning the long-awaited project to stabilize and restore the monument erected to great fanfare in July 1870.

“We cleaned it yesterday,” Jeff Cash said, indicating the monument was gently powerwashed with water and chemicals as needed as he and co-worker Daniel Mathias paid particular attention to mortar joints between the layers of stone.

“We barely used any pressure at all,” Cash said, adding that the power washer was set on 500 pounds of pressure, or “about like a garden hose.”

The base of the historic structure is “very, very old marble,” Cash said, indicating most people would never know that since it was nearly black from years of dirt and grime and neglect. “This has to be the first time this has been cleaned,” he added.

All the stones will get “fresh mud,” while “skyward-facing joints” will be caulked so water can’t run down into them, Cash said.

In all, 56 stones will be replaced. Only six stone sections (all on the east side of the structure) bearing names of the 321 Putnam County soldiers killed in the War Between the States will be reused. The rest are being refabricated because of deterioration.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can until we get the stones,” Cash said, noting that the workmen’s presence at Forest Hill has attracted attention and generated some traffic past the monument, including visits by members of the Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County (HPS).

He expects the project to take a month to complete.

“These are the kinds of jobs I like,” Cash said, enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and noting how everyone he and Mathias have encountered has been “extremely nice.”

Titled “Western Soldier on Guard” and sculpted by Thomas David Jones (who erected basically a twin statue in Pomeroy, Ohio), the monument is a three-tiered structure with the bottom portion made of Indiana limestone from Oolitic in Lawrence County, while the upper section appears to be a variety of sandstone.

The center section is made of Berea sandstone, quarried from a specific area of Ohio that no longer provides such material.

History notes that the Putnam County Civil War Monument was the third such statue erected in the state. Dedicated just five years after the war ended, it was the first Civil War monument in Indiana to feature a human figure, and the only Hoosier memorial displaying a seated soldier.

And that soldier will be getting his rifle back, Cash said. A new fabricated sandstone rifle will replace one lost not once but twice to history.

Initially it was reportedly taken in a fraternity prank. Later returned to the city, it was lost again as the result of a subsequent fire at a cemetery-owned residential property in which it was being stored.

Observers had long thought the soldier’s thumb was missing, Cash said, because the Ohio version of the statue has the cavalryman’s thumb noticeably pointing up. However, upon closer examination, the Putnam statue has both thumbs, Cash said, noting that the one in question is just tucked in with his forefinger.

HPS President Phil Gick said the contract calls for substantial completion of the work by May 15 with final completion by June 15.

“There has been coordination between the contractor, the city and HPS over the course of the winter,” Gick said, “to select the stone to be used, the names of those to be listed (by block), and visits to assess the pieces that need to be fashioned for the outer edge of the plinth and portions of the statue.”

Meanwhile, nothing has been set for a formal dedication of the restored monument.

“I am thinking it might be nice to have something formal on July 2, the anniversary of the original dedication,” Gick said. “I don’t know if that is something that can be brought to fruition; we’ll have to see.”

Currently a sign in front of the monument near the southwest corner of the cemetery notes that rehabilitation of the property has been funded in part by a matching grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service in a program administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

While HPS has raised much of the funding, the city and county have pledged support to the project as well.

The estimated $110,000 restoration is becoming a reality, thanks in part to the receipt of a $40,000 Heritage Preservation Fund Grant, made possible by Forest Hill Cemetery being listed on the National Register in July 2015, and a $50,000 Envision Grant HPS received from the Putnam County Foundation in January 2015.

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