Some monuments are very simple–a small plaque inset on a boulder, or very practical–a watering trough, which, when horse power transported people and goods everywhere, was a vital service to townspeople, and therefore a gathering spot. Some towns and colleges and universities built libraries or other memorial buildings; churches commissioned memorial windows, and existing structures or highways were commemorated as memorials to Civil War dead. While not as imposing or as public, these monuments speak to local values, funding and the centrality of those spaces in time gone by.
Many of Maine’s Civil War monuments are located in cemeteries. In fact, Bangor’s Hope Cemetery is the site of what is rumored to have been the first Civil War monument erected in the nation. Although other states dispute this claim, it is assuredly one of the earliest. In some cases, a public cemetery grew up around a Civil War monument, and in others, an existing cemetery was chosen as a fitting location for such a memorial. Maine is also the site of one of the earliest National Cemeteries, on the grounds of the first home for disabled and homeless soldiers.
US Veteran’s Medical Center and National Cemetery
Envisioned in 1859 as a resort akin to Sarasota Springs, this site became known as “Beal’s Folly;” it failed almost immediately with the outbreak of the Civil War. With recently built but empty hotel and recreation facilities coupled with its remote location (far from the corrupting influences of the city), Togus Springs was regarded as the perfect site to shelter disabled and homeless soldiers. Thus, it became the country’s first National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, within a year home to more than 200 veterans, mostly from the Northeast and many of whom were foreign-born.
Togus, the site of the present Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, is also the location of one of the nations’ first national cemeteries: the West Cemetery (est. 1865) and then East Cemetery (est. 1936), totaling 31 acres. A Soldiers’ Monument and a Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, erected in the late 1800’s are located on the grounds, which have been closed for internments since 1936. In Augusta, the public Mount Pleasant Cemetery has a designated Soldier’s Lot, the first section donated to the federal government in 1862, and now part of the national cemetery system. The US Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 131 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier's lots and monument sites.
National Soldiers' Home
Built in 1866
Several of Maine’s Civil War memorials, like this one, are very simple—a large granite boulder with a plaque affixed. This one stands in what used to be known as Pine Hill Common. Now easy to overlook, this boulder monument is dwarfed by the larger 20th century wars monument and Veterans Roll of Honor behind it, and is encroached by shrubbery and by Route 302, Fryeburg’s Main Street. Cannons, often added to monument sites at anniversaries, were, in this case, in place by 1904, well before the Civil War monument. For twenty years, they flanked the boulder, but were removed in a WW II scrap metal drive.
Bradley Memorial Park
Main and River Streets
This monument, typical of many Maine monuments, was carved in local granite, in this case from nearby Hallowell. Atop the column is a funeral urn, marking it as a memorial for Gardiner men who were killed “that their country might live.” It was erected on “Decoration Day,” May 30, 1876, on the Gardiner Common. The Kennebec Journal June 1, 1876, reports “The day was all that could be desired, there being a cool and refreshing breeze blowing, which served to make the weather most delightful. The dedication of the new Soldiers’ Monument, recently erected by the city, added a very interesting feature to the exercises of the day.”
Gardiner Common, Brunswick Avenue