Northampton Local Monuments: Testament to an Enduring Historical Legacy

By Walton, Jill M. | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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Northampton Local Monuments: Testament to an Enduring Historical Legacy

Walton, Jill M., Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Monuments, memorials and statues were not traditional on the American scene until after the Civil War. In fact, prior to 1865, most monuments or memorial architecture could be found only in cemeteries. Following the conflict, however, Americans erected many Civil War statues, memorials and monuments during the Reconstruction Period and between 1890 and 1920.

According to James W. Loewen, in his book, lies Across America, "human beings live by stories. Individuals can feel part of something important-in this case, our nations progress-by identifying with others who performed heroic deeds." He also states that the erection of "markers and monuments and preserving historic sites allows affluent Americans to feel good about their wealth, fame, knowledge and civicmindedness."1 But, regardless of who built the monuments, the community of Northampton, Massachusetts has accepted their existence as an important link to its past and source of meaning to its present.

Monuments tell a story, a history, of what happened in specific places and times and that certain people are worth honor and remembrance. Some monuments evoke national pride while others speak to a local historical legacy. Northampton is no exception to these general monumental purposes. Community residents constructed many between 1890 and 1920, which historians, such as Loewen, consider the great monument building era. The first sculptures the town allowed outside the Bridge Street Cemetery were the Civil War statues at Memorial Hall. The only other monument to warrant this consideration was the newer Sojourner Truth Statue, dedicated in 2002, almost 120 years later.

Northampton celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2004. Through its history, many people and events; military, religious or political, have shaped the evolutionary course of this community. Northampton is prideful of its past and honors it with its monuments and statues. Within the city limits, which include the communities of Florence and Leeds, there are approximately twenty monuments and examples of statuary architecture of various sizes, shapes and historical designation.

Northampton is one of the oldest cites in Western Massachusetts and its present sense of urban identity is closely bound to its past. Its historical legacy includes the likes of Jonathan Edwards, a resident at the beginning of "The Awakening" period in the 1700's, Sojourner Truth, a former slave who lived in Florence and was part of the Abolitionist movement in the 1800's, and Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States. From its Puritan founding to its tolerance and acceptance of its gay community, Northampton has retained its unique historical character. In fact, the famous entertainer Jenny Lind declared in 1851, when she visited the city, that it was the "Paradise of America."2

This paper seeks to answer several important questions as to who erected the Northampton monuments. It also analyzes what inspired these artists and builders and why these edifices remain important to Northampton residents today.

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall is one the most universally admired memorials in Northampton. The dedication and years that went into its creation and the funds provided by the town and its citizens are a tribute to the residents of the community who sought to record their past in artistic and inspiring manner. The town's original plan was to build a free public library to replace the overcrowded area used in the Town Hall. Thus from its first inception, Northampton residents agreed that the Memorial Hall project would be part of a joint venture involving the construction of a public library.

In November 1867 the Young Men's Institute took the first steps toward completing the project when it procured a site for both the library and Memorial Hall by purchasing three quarters of an acre of the Lyman estate in the center of town adjacent to the Unitarian church. The Young Men's Institute paid six thousand dollars for the lot, with the transaction completed in 1868.

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Northampton Local Monuments: Testament to an Enduring Historical Legacy


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