Amherst eyes new home for historic Civil War tablets 

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2020 7:44:17 PM

AMHERST — A long-running saga to determine how large marble tablets honoring Amherst’s Civil War veterans and deceased, including Black soldiers from the famed 54th Regiment, should be publicly displayed is taking another step forward.

The five plaques, each measuring 56 by 75 inches and weighing between 600 and 800 pounds, are expected to be moved in the near future from a storage building at a North Amherst gravel pit to a climate-controlled space, possibly the Pole Room on the lower level of the Bangs Community Center.

While Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he doesn’t envision that such a move will allow for the immediate display of the stones, transporting them to town center will provide a suitable place for a conservator to examine them and make recommendations for how to protect them if they go on view.

Ideally, Bockelman said the town would again hire Monument Conservation Collaborative, LLC, of Norfolk, Connecticut, which a decade ago handled restoration work funded by Town Meeting in 2010, and securely put them back into crates when they were returned to Amherst.

Bockelman said the town needs information about whether any display is possible, noting that while heavy, they are also delicate. “It’s a big challenge for us,” Bockelman said. 

About $36,000 remains from the $65,000 approved by Town Meeting.

Originally commissioned in 1893 by the local Grand Army of the Republic post, the plaques list 300 soldiers, including many from Amherst’s most influential families of the 19th century.

The latest developments come in response to inquiries from Anika Lopes, an Amherst resident whose late grandfather, Dudley Bridges, developed a plan to place the tablets in the Gates Lot at the corner of Main and Lessey streets, in the vicinity of a metal sculpture showing Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost conversing. In 2001, the Select Board endorsed his plan over a competing one that would have placed the monuments in front of Town Hall.

Lopes told the Historical Commission last spring that she is prepared to help raise money for a display and ongoing maintenance. Since that time, Lopes has formed a memorial group to honor the sacrifices of the people named on the plaques and to recognize the 54th regiment and freedom for African-Americans.

In a letter to Bockelman, Lopes expressed concern for the well being of the tablets, observing that they have been stored in a building near road salt and how they are positioned on stands may be causing damage. Bockelman responded that he understands the situation.

“They deserve a place of prominence where they can be displayed securely, seen widely, and enjoyed by all who live in or visit the Town of Amherst.”

Other ideas for display have been floated in recent years, including putting them back in Town Hall, where they had once been displayed before a 1990s-era renovation, or having them featured in an expanded and renovated Jones Library.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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