Remembering our first Memorial - July 2012

There are several memorials located in the City of Greenfield that honor those that have served our country. In 2008 work began on our latest Veterans memorial which is located on the Southwest corner of State and South Street. The Hancock County Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located on the Northeast corner of South State and Davis Road (100 S). It was dedicated in 1991 and is in a section of the Hancock County Bicentennial Park. A “V” of 12 poplar trees with fine granite stones at each vortex, with an inscription stating “In grateful remembrance to those who served and those who gallantly gave their lives in Vietnam.

But long before those memorials there was a memorial constructed that sometimes today goes forgotten. Most citizens only know of the “old brick building on North Street”. I’ve combed through many of old pages of the Daily Reporter but I never found articles that impressed me with the excitement and enthusiasm as what I read when reading the articles describing the need for a veterans memorial.

The Hancock County Memorial Building, located at 98 E. North Street, began becoming a reality on December 3, 1918, when a group of citizens conducted a public meeting expressing the need for a memorial for the veterans of Hancock County.

It was stated in the December 7, 1918 Daily Reporter that “No greater good could come to our city than a home as a social center for our young people. Gold mines bring wealth, while good men and women bring honor and prosperity to our country. Then our stock in trade should not be in how many dollars we may accumulate in a year, but how big and how useful we may cause our boys and girls to grow in the same time. The day for self-interest is past and the time arrives when all must strive together for one common end – the good of humanity” “The boys offered their lives, let us do the rest”.

Sounds motivating enough to me!

The movement for a memorial got a good start when the Greenfield Banking Company announced that it would donate the empty lot that they owned on the corner of East and North St. for the construction of a memorial building. The lot, which was a perfect 150’ x 150’ square, was one of the most desirable empty lots for development at the time. Mayor Ora Meyers, County Clerk Harvey Rhue, Circuit Court Clerk Horace Wilson, Government Appeals Clerk Robert Reeves, Greenfield City Council and County Council all expressed their approval for such a project.

Building war memorials is not something all that new for the time. Many communities had built memorials to honor those that had fought in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. But these memorials were typically stand alone memorials and not buildings. After World War I memorial buildings began to become the new trend because they served a better use for a community.

So much that in January of 1919 the State of Indiana passed a bill that allowed communities to build war memorials with the assistance of taxes and bond issues. The State also formed the Bureau of Memorial Buildings which would help advice communities on their projects.

In December of 1919 a Co-operative of the County of Federation of Clubs began regularly having meetings to push along the idea. On December 20 the Hancock County War Memorial Association was formed. The group consisted of Frank Larrabee as President, Lawrence Wood Vise-President, Rev. Otto Trabue Secretary and Elwood Maynard Treasurer.

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It was agreed by the new board that the building should not have an obstructed view and should be visible to all. The vacant lot being donated by the Greenfield Bank served this purpose, which is only a block north of US 40 and clearly visible at the end of East St. The building was to be a “shrine” to all veterans and a gathering place or home to our counties citizens. It should be a place where men and women who returned from war could live and begin to rebuild their lives. A building that had offices, living space, auditorium and meeting space.

The building shall be a hall, coliseum or building of such a nature, the same shall be used for public purposes or all kinds, but especially shall it be for the purpose of perpetuating and keeping those principles alive for which a war is fought. Places shall be established for memorial tablets, works of art, relics, souvenirs, war records and any and all things connected with or growing out of the war which in the opinion of the board of trustees shall appropriate. Institutes, exhibits, shows and entertainments of all kinds may be held in church building sin the direction of the board. No preferences shall be shown to any church, political party or class of society but this provision shall not be constructed to require or permit the use of said building by any organization, person or persons to promulgate doctrines inimical to the government of the Untied State or the State of Indiana.

And that it has been!

On April 5, 1919 the board began a petition in which every citizen was encouraged to sign.

On November 15, 1919 the committee made a motion to the county council to move forward with the official planning of a memorial building. The cost of the construction was to not exceed $75,000. On June 25, 1920 the county commissioners unanimously gave final approvals to the petitions for the memorial.

On June 28, 1920 a new commission was formed and consisted of Ralph Logan of New Palestine, Freeman Braddock of Jackson Township, John Fletcher, J.W. Trittipo of Fortville and James E. McCullough of Greenfield.

In July the commissioned announced that construction of the building would be moved to spring of 1921. More time was needed to raise funds and complete construction plans. But by January the spring deadline looked to be in jeopardy due to an increase in construction materials. It wouldn’t begin till summer of 1922.

On July 14, 1922 the architect firm of McGuire and Shook of Indianapolis was contracted to begin the design of the building. The construction firm began design of the building which was to have state of the art fire-proof brick walls with stone and terra cotta trimmings. The building was 116’ long and 75’ wide and three-stories tall in the front and two stories high in the rear with a fire-proof central corridor.

As you enter the building you enter into a grand vestibule with large offices and meetings rooms on each side. To the rear of the entrance is a combination auditorium and gymnasium approximately 75 x 45 with a large stage, balcony seats and ample provisions made for motion picture exhibitions.

The second floor is devoted to the use of the American Legion and Auxiliary activities and provides a post room, club and game/ trophy room and restrooms.

The ground floor in front is divided into three large rooms for the use of agricultural and other lectures, denominations, farmer clubs and other community activities.

The space under the auditorium and gymnasium are to be devoted to a large community dining area for public gatherings. It has an ample kitchen and serving facilities.

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By the time the plans were complete construction cost soared again due to the railroad strike. The building would be delayed again.

On August 15, 1923, contractor Harry Vahle was commissioned to construct the building. Stephen White was hired to inspect and oversee construction. With no further delays construction began immediately.

The building was totally enclosed by the end of the year. During the winter months the building fund continued to exceed expectations. So much that the cost of construction when all was complete exceeded the $75,000 initially set and was finally complete at $100,000. That was considered a “small sum when compared to the sacrifice it commemorates losses that are not to be measured in dollars and cents”.

In February 1924 the committee announced that the War Mothers of Hancock County will cover all cost to construct and place two stone tablets which are located in the main vestibule. One tablet list the names of eighteen Hancock County men who lost their lives in WW I and the other tablet was to honor our way President, Woodrow Wilson.

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The dedication was held on July 21, 1924. It was estimated that over 2,000 people attended. Special veterans present at the ceremony was Taylor Morford, a Civil War soldier and a member of the GAR, laid the cornerstone. Chancy F. Pasco, who served in the Philippines, representing the Spanish-American veterans and Dr. Noble Elsbury, a World War soldier. Boys form the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Knightstown took part in the ceremony as well as the American Legion Post 119. Bands from Greenfield, McCordsville and Wilkinson performed. Roger Justice and Mary Holen Storch of Wilkinson sang a duet. Joseph and Isabelle Steele of Buck Creek Township did a cornet and saxophone duet. Howard Thomas of Jackson Township did a Baritone solo. Miss Irene Short of Sugar Creek and Ella Outland of Brandywine Township did readings. Ralph Ginley of Green Township read poems. Earl Poer of Blue River Township did a solo. Arthur Robinson of the State American Legion post gave an address. At the end the audience all sang “America”.

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In the original picture at the beginning of the article you’ll notice two cannons in the lawn. These cannons were trophies of WWI and were placed on both sides of the entrance. One of the cannons, which are the one you see in the above picture, is an Austrian howitzer and the other was a small German fieldpiece. They were brought here from New York City by the American Legion Post 119.

On October 16, 1942 the cannons were removed from the lawn to use for scrap and to be molded into weapons for WW II. A ceremony marked the removal of the cannons. Colonel Walter S. Drysdale, commander of the Fort Benjamin Harrison, was the speaker. Legionnaires pictured here, from left to right, are; Roy Pickett, Clarence Binford, Paul Ogg, Harry Andis, Colonel Dysdale, Edgar Ridlen, Laurence Weber, Ira Lyon, Henry Schuneman, Sam Duncan, Dr. C.M. Gibbs, Dr. J.L. Allen, Nile Eaton, and Ed Bader. If you look real close at the front lawn you can still see in the grass where the cannons once stood.

 

 

In the 1930-s and 1940’s many of picture postcards were made of the Memorial Building and can still be found today.

 

july12-5 In the early 1920’s the first Hancock County American Legion Post 119 baseball team was organized by the members of the post. Roy Pickett was commander during this time. According to the “Hancock Legionnaire,” “They played to crowds of over 1,000 persons with other teams throughout Central Indiana.

july12-6 This is the original Drum and Bugle Corps of Hancock Post 119 of the American Legion. Organized in 1931 and disbanded in 1943 during WWII. The Post was officially organized on New Year’s Day 1921, when the officers who had been elected the previous Armistice Day assumed their duties.

 

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Picture of the Memorial Building today

This building has served this community in more ways than original commission could have imagined. This has been a “home” and “gathering place” for this community. More events have been held that can be listed. The gymnasium was the home court for many of the county high schoosl for their school's basketball games, before these schools had their own gymnasium. Movies, dances and theater performances were also held in the gym. Any and all social events and pot luck dinners were also held. In later years the City of Greenfield Parks Department offices were on the main floor. Today the Hancock County Mental Health Association and the Veterans War Memorial have offices on the main floor.

88 years this building has served this community. Maybe the community will do something special for its 100th birthday. Although times have changed and the building serves in different capacities the need to honor our veterans is just as strong today as it was back then. Hopefully our communities first veterans memorial won’t be forgotten in the future. This building should continue to always be a “shrine” to the veterans of our community.

By Greg Roland

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