Soldier’s Memorial Building: Linking the Past with the Present
When we can link ourselves with our past, we more fully appreciate who we are today and how we got here. We seem to need to travel our historical path in order to continue on our present – leading to the future – path.
One way we do this is to explore what an ancestor might have been ‘made of,’ to see if we find similar traits in ourselves.
There is a small, beautiful brick building in downtown Lebanon on the Green that you have driven by hundreds of times, and may have even felt you were being watched. You were! By a silent figure – a lonely sentinel, a Union soldier – standing guard in front of this building nestled between Rogers House and Roy’s Auto Service.
In 1958-1959, when Lebanon changed its structure from a town to a city, the building had deteriorated badly and was in much need of major repairs. There was discussion of possibly needing to tear it down and putting a business on the site. This did not sit well with the veterans of Lebanon and other people who had great feelings about saving and preserving this sacred building. So, this group, along with Robert Leavitt, former city historian, approached the City Council to oppose this. Leavitt had it declared An Historic Building – thus it was saved!
Terri Dudley was Mayor of the City of Lebanon from 1999-2000, and a member of the NH Legislature 2000-2006. She understood the value of preserving the building for veterans as her husband, Roger Dudley (92 this July), had served in WWII as a medic in the Army in the South Pacific theater.
Terri told me that Bob Leavitt had written a book, Lebanon, New Hampshire, in Pictures, in two volumes, 1997, published by Whitman Publishing for the Lebanon Historical Society. She said that these books have quite a lot of information regarding the Memorial Building, including the magnificent stained glass windows.
There are also two narrated videos of about 25 minutes each produced by CATV. Go to www.lebnh.net/home/about-lebanon/lebanon-veterans and find Soldiers Memorial Building – Parts 1 and 2. These give you the stories of six of the veterans memorialized by these stained glass windows.
In May of 2014, the Lebanon City Council established the positions of guardian and deputy guardian of the building. The present guardian is Bob L. Therrien, who was interviewed for this article. Bob is a US Navy veteran, 1970-1975, and a retired Lebanon police officer. He said with much feeling, “It is an honor for me to do this.”
A plaque on the wall just inside the front door of this building gives a brief account of its history, and following is the wording taken from the plaque exactly as printed:
“The Patriotic Organizations and their Home in Lebanon, N.H.
(Prepared by Lucy J. Comings, Secretary Corps 62.)
With the exception of the town hall the first public building to be erected in Lebanon was the Soldier’s Memorial Building on North Park Street.
From time to time after the close of the war the question of a Memorial to the veterans of the civil war was discussed but it was not until August 25th, 1881, that the first steps were taken towards having a Soldiers’ Memorial Building with tablets in the second story as a monument and the first story to be used as a town library. N. H. Randlett, Ferdinand Davis, Alpheus W. Baker, Jesse E. Dewey, O. W. Baldwin, O. J. Much more, A. W. Shapleigh, W. S. Carter were the first ones to draw up and sign an agreement to pay $20.00 each towards such a building. The building committee were Frank C. Churchill, Alpheus W. Baker and Ferdinand Davis [the architect]. They met with many obstacles in connection with the work but on May 30th, 1886, the cornerstone was laid by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New Hampshire. The town appropriated $3580 toward the building and the remainder was raised in various ways by the people of the town, old and young working together for this purpose. The building was dedicated July 4th, 1890, and was one of the largest gatherings that Lebanon had ever seen.
The Lebanon Soldier’s Memorial Building was the first to be erected in New Hampshire and was deeded to the town with the following conditions: “That these premises shall be forever preserved for a Soldiers’ Memorial, for a Free Public Library, and for a place of meeting for veteran soldiers, and sons of veterans, and for only such purposes as shall preserve the memory of patriots and teach coming generations loyalty and devotion to their country.”
The library was moved to the new building in 1909 since which the whole building has been used by the patriotic organizations. In 1915 W. S. Carter placed glass cases in the lower room for the preservation of relics which may be placed there at any time. A number of the shelves have been filled and anyone will find these curious articles an interesting study and well worth a visit to this room.”
Richard Courtemanche, assistant guardian, who participated in this interview, is also a veteran who served in the European Theater in WWII as Army Infantry. He turned 90 on April 6. He owned a barbershop downtown that burned in the Lebanon fire, but continued his business nearby.
Through the efforts of many volunteers, and after much restoration, the building was preserved and re-opened to the public in 2008 and over 4,000 people have visited to date. This summer it will be open to the public on Thursday evenings during the hours of the Lebanon Farmers’ Market; also Memorial Day, Alumni Day on June 11, July 4th and Veterans Day.
The building is City-owned, and cared for under the Department of Public Works. It is available for veterans groups to hold meetings, and special tours, by contacting Bob Therrien at 603-252-5155.
Among the volunteers are Gary Ward, of the McKinley Camp 9, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, reenactors who meet in the building; Fran Hanchett, who researched and identified many Lebanon Civil War soldiers in Lebanon cemeteries for the purpose of putting markers on their (until now unmarked) graves; Ed Ashey, City Historian; Annette Scott, Dan Downes, Everett Farnsworth, Ted Guay, Mayor Georgia Tuttle, and many other dedicated people.
Displays in cases downstairs honor the memories of veterans of many wars with memorabilia beginning with the French & Indian War, through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, World Wars I and II,
Korean War, Vietnam War, and the present War on Terrorism (Afganistan, Gulf, etc.).
Bill LaPan, retired Lebanon Fire Captain, recently donated a 1766 Charleyville 69 caliber Musket. If you have artifacts and family memorabilia pertaining to veterans that you would like to add to this collection, please contact Bob Therrien.
The upstairs room is a consecrated chapel where veterans can lie in state and have funeral services. There are marble memorial tablets on the walls of this room, engraved with the names of Lebanon soldiers who served in the Civil War.
The six stained glass windows were donated over time by various civic organizations in honor of someone who died in the Civil War. The windows had been badly damaged due to hurricanes and age, and were sent to a professional for releading and restoration in time for the reopening in 2008.
You are encouraged and welcome to visit, volunteer, or bring a group. You may find that your own grandfather might be memorialized (DeCato, Baker, Miller, Kimball). Spend some quiet time contemplating not only the items and beauty of the structure itself, but also appreciating why it is there – to educate and teach us of the sacrifices of veterans, to keep it as a living memorial, and to preserve and protect the memories of those brave veterans who contributed, and are still contributing, much and sometimes all, to keep us free and safe and able to enjoy our beautiful land. For this, we thank you!
Thank you for what you are doing and have done for our Veterans.
My father Albert des Groseilliers served in Europe during WW-2. He lived for many years in Lebanon where I grew up. This makes our family very proud.