TheAmerican Flag and Soldier Monument (The Peiffer Memorial Statue)
To Dr. Theodore Flood (Co. C, 125th Regiment, PA Infantry), a span of nearly three decades must have seemed like a long time to wait for the dedication of a monument to Crawford County's Civil War veterans. Since the late 1860s, communities both large and small had been raising monuments in honor and remembrance of the local participants of battles such as Antietam, The Wilderness, and Gettysburg. This activity was so prodigious nationwide that it virtually created a new industry, and many of the companies that sprang up to handle the increased demand for bronze and stone memorials survived into the early 1900s.
In truth, every detail concerning Crawford County's Soldiers' Memorial Monument (sometimes called the "Sergeant Peiffer Memorial") places it squarely in the center of the grand tradition of Civil War statuary. The work is a wonderfully average example of the genre, "average" in the sense that its dedication date, appearance, and location clearly connect it to a broader nationwide trend. The decade ca. 1890-1900, in contrast to Dr. Flood's judgment, was a busy one for foundries and stone companies. With veterans' reunions and Decoration Day observances becoming increasingly popular, many communities erected "official" monuments during this period. Crawford County's effort was certainly not unique.
The memorial raised in Diamond Park would have been recognizable to citizens throughout the northern United States. The granite column and elevated base, the statue of a colorbearer (representative of the common foot soldier of the infantry), the patriotic eagle, and the carved insignias symbolic of the cavalry, artillery, and navy were all standard components for mid-sized monuments. Likewise, the many memorials created at the end of the nineteenth century were featured prominently in town squares, a logical setting for objects that in essence often symbolized civic and municipal commitment - funds raised by church groups, schoolchildren, local governments, and women's auxilliaries, for example - as well as military sacrifice.
This commonality does not detract from the significance of Crawford County's memorial. In fact, many details of the work's creation - including the company chosen for the job and the materials that were used in the final production - clearly demonstrate
that the men responsible for handing out the commission obtained the finest memorial that their financial resources would allow. In order to take a look at these factors, we must first understand something of the work's origins.
Efforts to erect a monument to the county's Civil War participants dated back to February 13, 1888. On that day, upon the invitation of Sergeant Peiffer Post No. 331, delegates from every GAR post in Crawford County gathered in Meadville to discuss the possibility of erecting a Soldiers' Memorial. Out of that first meeting came the formation of a Monument Association, a body of twenty-nine men drawn from communities throughout the area, inclduing Cambridge Boro, Cochranton, Conneautville, Evansburg (Conneaut Lake), Linesville, Meadville, Springboro, and Titusville. Three men - Dr. Flood, A.C. Huidekoper (Company F, 58th Regiment, PA Inf.; Company A, 211th Regiment, PA Inf.), and Samuel B. Dick (Company F, 38th Regiment, PA 9th Reserves) - were chosen from the Association to select an appropriate design and contract for the memorial.
After two years, enough money was raised to go ahead with the project. Although surviving newspaper accounts make no mention of fundraising activities, the effort was probably a county-wide affair. Often, such drives became the focal point for numerous civic groups, with schools, churches, women's organizations like the D.A.R., and professional associations all working towards a financial goal articulated by the local GAR Post. Indeed, the account found in the Tribune Republican's Monday morning feature, "The Bronze Sentinel" (July 6, 1891), specifically notes that, "...contributions to the handsome testimonial came from the men, women, and children of all classes in our county."
With funding in hand, the Monument Association placed an order on February 13, 1890 with the Smith Granite Company, Westerly, Rhode Island. There were good reasons for this branch office out of Cleveland, Ohio, so convenience may have played a role in the choice. An even greater factor was certainly the company's fine reputation. During its peak years of operation, ca. 1885-1900, Smith Granite employed over 400 men in its various cutting sheds, drafting rooms, quarries and sculptors' studios. They produced monuments for veterans' organizations throughout the eaqstern United State including sixty works erected on the grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park. In fact, William B. VanAmringe, the independent Smith Company agent who handled the Meadville job, was very involved with numberous veterans' projects at Gettysburg and other battlefield sites as well.
The monument produced for Crawford County was one of the Smith Company's finest models, and the great-grandson of the company found notes that "the most talented stone cutters and carvers employed at S.G.Co" worked on the project. Many commerical stone carvers (the artisans responsible for fine detail work) during this period were Italian immigrants, and a page from the company's order book suggests that this may have been the case at Smith Granite. While the monument's blue granite base and column were roughed out and polished by men with names like Hughes, Rush, and Burke, the eagle and military insignias were carved by A. Botinelli and L. Olgeati, at a total cost of $473.91.
For the bronze infantryman crowning the memorial, another Smith Company resource was utilized. The selected statue was an attractive and extremely popular STOCK figure by the company sculptor Edward Pausch (it is not a portrait of Sergeant Peiffer, whose name was sometimes given to the monument because of the Meadville GAR Post that initiated the effort to build it). This figure was reproduced many times, but for a typical order it was often carved in granite, a less expensive option preferable to small communities. Having the work cast in bronze added $1,275.00 to the final price, not an insignificant sum in 1890 and approximately one fourth of the monument's total cost.
The goal of the Monument Association was to have the Soldiers' Memorial erected in Diamond Park in time for its originally scheduled dedication on September 10, 1890, the same day as the annual reunion in Meadville of the 150th Pennsylvania volunteers. Unfortunately, work on the project was delayed for approximately three months by a labor strike in Westerly that spring. Although Smith Granite was in full operation by August, the original deadline could not be met. The work was eventually shipped on October 24, 1890, at a final cost of $4,809.23.
Rather than rush through a late fall dedication ceremony, the Monument Association postponed the event until the following summer. The Soldiers' Memorial stood in Diamond park for nine months before it was officially dedicated on July 4, 1891. Although that date was certainly a fitting choice, it seems to have been a last-minute decision. The Tribune Republican's coverage of the day hailed it as "One of the greatest celebrations...Meadville has known in many years," but also noted that it was an event "born in the eleventh hour". Whatever the case, it surely must have presented quite a spectacle: thousands of people gathered in the Diamond and on the main streets in town; red, white, and blue bunting hung from businesses and private residences; patriotic displays were arranged in hotel windows; and the Tribune Republican erected a ceremonial wooden arch over Water Street. A grand parade featuring delegates from the county GAR posts and other local officials led the way to the monument site, where a platform had been erected for the dedication ceremonies. Following the requisite musical selections and laudatory speeches, the day's events were concluded with an illuminated bicycle parade and fireworks.
Over a century has passed since the Soldiers' Memorial Monument was dedicated in Diamond Park. Although not a singular work of art, it is nonetheless a fine memorial. Featuring the solid design and craftsmanship of a prominent New England firm, carved of sturdy granite and enchanced by the additional expense of a bronze statue, and given a place of honor in the town square, the memorial is a lasting testament to the sacrifice of Crawford County's sons and a witness to the contributions of the countless local citizens who assisted in its creation.
By Leslie A. Przybylek, Curator of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum. Used with permission from the Crawford County Historial Society Newsletter Vol. XIII, No. 1, SPRING 1995