Obtained from a quarry in Vermont, the G.A.R. monument at the south entrance to Oak Grove Cemetery was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 31, 1915, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
Standing twenty-one feet high, this Berre granite monument was secured through the Detroit Marble Works and carved by Mr. Matson and his crew of workers. There are 133 Civil War Veterans of the Union Army buried in the Catholic and Oak Grove Cemetery.
Traditionally, Memorial Day was held on May 30. In 1915, May 30 was on Sunday, so Memorial Day was celebrated the following day. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May.
An old cigar box, found in the archives of the Becker County Museum, contained three sheets of paper, which stated three banks in Detroit each contributed $25 for this monument. Numerous businesses and citizens contributed from $1 to $5 each. These records, kept by Mary S. Lewis in pencil, stated she had collected about $765 for the monument.
A newspaper article stated, "Without the leadership of Mary Lewis the monument would not grace the cemetery as it does today." Lewis, who was the owner of Lewis Hotel and a member of the Women's Relief Corps (W.R.C.), was instrumental in raising funds, which took almost a year, for this monument.
The monument cost $1,800 in 1915. In 2011, it would taken $39,061 to have the same buying power that $1,800 had in 1915.
A news item in the Detroit Record on Oct. 16, 1914, stated ground was broken the day before for the foundation of this monument. Fundraising had begun with $90 being raised by holding two chicken pie suppers. Directly below this news item was a short news report about World War I (which began in late July 1914) that was going on in Europe. The situation was summed up by saying, "The situation is unchanged -- just a few thousand more dead."
No doubt the war in Europe was on the minds of many citizens of Becker County as they gathered at the Court House on Memorial Day in 1915, to began their parade to Oak Grove Cemetery. Just six days earlier, the American Steam Ship "Nebraska" had been attacked by a submarine. The United States made every effort to remain neutral in this conflict before declaring war on Germany, Aug. 6, 1917.
In the Friday, June 4, 1915, edition of the Detroit Record three-fourths of the front page told about the events on Memorial Day. It was stated that with, "ideal weather, a large attendance, an $1,800 monument, and an address by U.S. Senator M.E. Clapp, there was little left to ask for in the matter of an incentive to arouse a spirit of patriotism and a feeling of reverence for the memory of those brave boys in blue..."
The parade left the court house at 9:30, and was led by some six hundred children from the public schools in charge of 17 members of the faculty, these followed by the marshal of the day, the Hawley Band, Sons of Veterans, G.A.R., Women's Relief Corps, Sons of Veterans Auxiliary and citizens, presented an imposing site."
G.A.R. formed at close of Civil War
The G.A.R. was formed to provide Civil War veterans an organization that would allow them political influence and opportunities to meet socially. The G.A.R.'s task was to "carry on in unity and harmony and to perpetuate the name of the Grand Army of the Republic, down through history so they shall not be forgotten." Today's American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.) operate under the same principles of the G.A.R.
Under General John A. Logan, one of the early national Commanders, the organization became one of the most powerful groups in the United States. Between the end of the Civil War and 1900, only one man became president of the United States who was not a G.A.R. member.
Becker County and the Civil War
Under the direction of Executive Director Amy Degerstrom, the Becker County Historical Society and Museum published a book "The Soldiers of Becker County: In Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Start of the Civil War 1861-1865." This book contains a brief glimpse into the lives of these veterans.
The United States government, having spent all their money to support the Union troops, offered to pay the soldiers in land with "soldier's homesteads." Eventually, 364 Civil War veterans made their way to Becker County where they settled our towns, established farms and started industries. Their names remain on our streets and buildings today. Do you suppose Union Street was so named because it was the home of the Detroit G.A.R. Francis Choate Post No. 67?
G.A.R. Memorial Park
The Detroit G.A.R. Francis Choate Post No. 67 was organized sometime between 1872 and 1884. It was named after Col. Francis C. Choate, the first man of the First Minnesota Regiment who was killed during the Civil War. At one time, the Detroit Post numbered about 177 veterans. Later, the Sons of Union Veterans and an Auxiliary were formed.
To be eligible for membership, one had to have served in the Union Army during the Civil War and received an honorable discharge. Early records of the Francis Choate Post 67 were lost in the Buckman Building fire on Dec. 12, 1925. The Buckman building was replaced and is now the site of Beug's Ace Hardware.
The Detroit G.A.R. incorporated and bought its meeting hall and property at the corner of Washington Avenue and Union Street. In 1952, the building, which was the first Congregational Church when the G.A.R. purchased the property, was purchased by Burt Hill and moved to Hill's Corner on Highway 10 east where it became a service station and restaurant.
As the ranks of the G.A.R. began to thin, sons and grandsons of Civil War Union veterans became eligible for membership in the G.A.R. This took place in 1896. For more than a century, Sons of Union Veterans carried on the work of the G.A.R. They helped bury Union Veterans and staged the city's Memorial Day program every May.
When the last Union Veteran, James Brigham of Frazee, died in June of 1938 at age 93, the charter and other records of the G.A.R. Post No. 67 were placed in the vaults of the Becker County Courthouse. In 1952, Sons of Union veterans turned over the site of the G.A.R. to the city of Detroit Lakes. The records are now in the archives of the Becker County Historical Society.
An impressive dedication ceremony for the G.A.R. Memorial Park at the corner of Washington Avenue and Union Street was held on Memorial Day, Friday, May 30, 1952. The monument, which was obtained from the D.L. Granite Works, was draped with a 9x15-foot 48-star flag, which Mary Lewis had sewn on a treadle sewing machine for the dedication of the G.A.R. Memorial at Oak Grove Cemetery in 1915. This flag hung in the G.A.R. Hall while it was in use. In 2012, it is at the Becker County Museum.
Detroit Lakes City Attorney Lowell Benshoof, in his dedication address, stated, "G.A.R. was once a strong organization here, and now 133 of its members are buried in the Catholic and Oak Grove Cemeteries here." Benshoof emphasized the Civil War "settled the permanency of the Union States" and said the G.A.R. was instrumental in preserving that unity following the war.
Engraved on the monument is a statement made by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, which reads, "That under God this nation might have a new birth of freedom."
Old soldiers from Boston settle at Detroit
The United States government, having used their money to support the Union troops, didn't have money to pay them when the war ended in 1865. However, they did have lots of unsettled land out West, which they offered as pay to the Union troops with "soldiers homesteads." Eventually, 364 Civil War veterans made their way to Becker County.
In an article in the March 14, 1966, Detroit Lakes Tribune, F.B. Chapin tells about his experience as an early settler of Detroit at the 25th anniversary of Becker County in 1896.
F.B. Chapin called Detroit a "soldiers' town." During the winter of 1871 in Boston, Civil War veterans would meet and discuss the idea of getting themselves a home in which they could raise their children, and a country where they could have something to leave them.
F.B. Chapin, along with a Mr. Sanderson and Mr. Day, was appointed to visit the West and seek a locality for their soldier friends. In his speech in 1896, Mr. Chapin said: "The Northern Pacific railroad was being constructed and we came out here. When we drove up that hill on May 8, 1872, where my house now stands, and we looked upon this field here that was then so vacant, and drove down to the beautiful woods -- we decided then and there that we couldn't find a better place.
"Here was lumber and water that was pure and good and that seemed more to us like New England than anything we had seen."
Chapin went on to say, "During the next two years, over 200 old soldiers and their families settled at Detroit Lake and vicinity and started a town that soon attracted other people."
Chapin came to Detroit in 1871, where he took a government homestead. He was the first superintendent of schools and served in that position until 1895. He was an advocate for free textbooks, and it was his efforts in that direction that lead to Becker County being among the first in the state to adopt the free textbook system. His wife was Martha R. They had one daughter, Mrs. John Whittemore. Chapin died Oct. 6, 1910.