Watertown History

Watertown Soldiers' Monument

2013 Restoration and Rededication

We are pleased to report that the historic Civil War Soldiers’ Monument in Saltonstall Park has at last been restored.  Former Historical Society of Watertown Council Member Jon Spector was the Chair of this project.



Statue of the Civil War soldier that tops the monument before (left; note the
missing nose, left hand and end of the rifle barrel) and after restoration


This statue stood in disrepair for decades and would have remained so if Jon had not taken the initiative to restore it.  His diligence in getting the word out, raising the funds, writing the newsletter to keep people updated on the progress and pursuing the grant in conjunction with the Town was a lot of work.  His dedication to the restoration of this monument is evident.  What a transformation!  This is an effort that will be appreciated by the Watertown community for years to come.

The restoration work was coordinated by Daedalus, Inc., of Watertown, conservators of monuments, architectural ornaments, grave markers, sculptures and fine art.  The first step in the restoration, stated Joshua Crane of Daedalus, “[was] to gently power-wash the surfaces of the monument.”  The result of this cleaning that began on August 1, 2013, was that the intricate veining of the granite was visible for the first time in decades.

Then the actual restoration of all of the joints and surfaces began.  After that, the artisan work began for the replacement of the soldier’s cap, rifle, nose, hand and the repair of chips on the monument’s surfaces.  The artisan work was done by Watertown sculptor David LaRocca.  Mr. LaRocca has walked by the damaged statue for many years and wished to see it restored to its original state and to help restore it.  He was delighted when asked to be involved.


Sculptor David LaRocca displaying the new hand
and rifle piece for the Solders' Monument


On November 11, 2013, the Soldiers’ Monument in Saltonstall Plaza was rededicated.  Over 200 people, along with State and Town officials, joined in on the celebration.  With excellent weather, the event was both a celebration of the restoration of the statue and a solemn observance of Veterans’ Day.  Honor Guards from local Veteran’s organizations, Revolutionary re-enactors, the Police department and the Fire department were in attendance.

The Historical Society of Watertown had worked closely with the Town, planning the much-needed statue restoration and plaza area renovation.  Over a period of 18 months, the Society conducted a fundraising campaign for the necessary work.  Generous contributions were raised from local residents and several banks and businesses.  Additional funding was secured via a State grant from the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, which supported projects during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

As part of the rededication, several proclamations were presented.  Marilyn Pettito Devaney read a proclamation from the Governor’s Council and Town Council President Mark Sideris announced the Town’s recognition of the importance of this event.  The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln was read by Yasmina Spector, followed by remarks from Ms. Devaney, Mr. Sideris and Steve Magoon of Community Development and Planning.  Captain Wilfred Clifford, USMC (Retired), a local resident, gave a moving tribute to the Soldiers’ Monument.  In addition, Ashley Smith, a senior at Watertown High School, read her composition about the importance of history and how we can remember the past through such monuments.  Ashley's essay was selected from dozens of entries in a Watertown High contest, which was held as part of a Historical Society outreach project.


Restoration project Chairperson Jon Spector in
front of the newly-restored Soldiers' Monument


“Lest We Forget.”  This was the appeal of the Soldiers’ Monument project when the first fundraising mailing took place. The pledge to remember those fallen during the Civil War has now been affirmed. Through the diligence and financial support of the city known as the Town of Watertown, the State’s support through the State Civil War Sesquicentennial commission and the support of the Historical Society of Watertown, significant bank and business donors, and the residents of Watertown, work on the Soldiers’ Monument and Saltonstall Plaza was successfully completed on November 11, 2013.


History of the Soldiers' Monument


Watertown Soldier's Monument in its original Saltonstall
Park location with the Grant School in the background


The period following the Civil War had many communities installing memorials; the use of the figure of a soldier was very popular.  The statue itself was fabricated at the Hallowell Granite Company of Maine, which was known for producing a number of prestigious works, including the beautiful Sphinx monument in Mount Auburn Cemetery.  While the artist of the Civil War soldier is unknown, Hallowell employed a number of skilled Italian sculptors who produced such works.

The design of the statue in Saltonstall Park is, in fact, not unique.  A statue with the same figure of the soldier was installed in Castine, ME.  What is remarkable is that the citizens of Castine have maintained their statue over the past century.  The pristine condition of this statue will allow for an accurate restoration of the Watertown Soldiers' Monument.

Another example of the same statue design can be found in Beverly, MA.  The scale of this memorial is larger than the Watertown statue.


History of Saltonstall Park

Formerly known as Main Street Park, the area has long been a focus of the Town Council.  In the Spring of 1881, it was noted during a Memorial Day address by Rev. E.P. Wilson that it would be desirable to construct a monument to those from Watertown who "so freely and honorably served Watertown" during the Civil War.  A committee was appointed in June, 1881, by the Watertown GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Post #81 to develop the plan for the park by involving "leading citizens."  The process resulted in the Town Council appropriating $3600 ($90,000 in 2010 dollars) in March, 1889.  With impressive speed, the monument was completed over the course of five months.


Postcard depicting Saltonstall Park, circa 1900


The dedication took place on October 31, 1889, and was a "gala day," with local residents gathering "in great numbers" to celebrate.  "Business was suspended, the schools closed, the Town Hall and other public buildings were gaily decorated with pictures, flags and bunting."  Over 350 people attended the ceremonies, with many members of local Posts, government officials and workers, local leaders and fraternal organizations taking part.

In the Watertown Enterprise of November 1, 1889, it was reported:  "The entire structure is a handsome tribute to the memory of those who fought in the war.  It is an object of general compliment and commendation, and is a most satisfactory piece of work to the citizens of the town.  It stands in a very conspicuous position where it can be seen and admired by all who pass through the town, and numbers have remarked that the oftener they saw the monument the more beautiful it appeared."  According to the 1889 Watertown Annual Report, the statue "is a handsome tribute made by a grateful town to its heroes."

The venue for the monument was then recently named Saltonstall Park.  Previously known as Main Street Park, the green space was identified by the Improvement Association in 1894 to be properly landscaped and made into a "beautiful garden" that would promise to be the "handsomest spot this side of Boston."  This was initiated as the area between the park and the public library (which also incorporates the site of the monument) had become unsightly. (1984 Watertown Annual Report, p. 75)

In 1895, a Watertown Park Association was formed.  In its report, it was reported that the park area had sewer pipe and construction materials removed.  A maintenance man attended to the "little plot" around the monument in order that the memorial would "no longer be a disgrace to us." (1895-1896 Watertown Annual Report, pp. 86-87)  Further improvements to Saltonstall Park were recommended in subsequent reports, with the addition of lighting and benches.  $300 was expended to improve the sidewalk in 1897.  Further Annual Reports advocated for a reasonable maintenance budget and further improvements, including the removal of some old buildings.  The Park Commission stated Saltonstall Park "could be developed by suitably placed plantings and paths, the whole forming a well-conceived ornamental and desirable open air space." (1898-1899 Watertown Annual Report 1898-1899, p. 76)

In the 1908 Watertown Annual Report, the Park Commissioners described "A tasty bandstand has been erected" in Saltonstall Park.  "The Board arranged early in the season with the American Watch Company Band of Waltham to provide a series of 4 open-air concerts...which were largely attended...& appreciated by our citizens."

The following year, the Annual Report reported:  "The Metropolitan Park Commission having favored us with several excellent band concerts at the foot of the Irving St. on the Charles River Reservation, it was thought unnecessary to hold any on Saltonstall Park."  Complaints from residents near Saltonstall Park of "nuisance created by persons using that part of the park near the railroad in the evening and often late into the night" were noted.

In 1920, the Annual Report stated "Saltonstall Park has been kept in excellent condition.  The old bandstand was removed...& a new water fountain was installed..."

The park was redesigned with improvements in 1921.  In 1924, emergency repairs were necessary to the cannon mounts, which were severely deteriorated.  The Annual Report described "Emergency operations at Saltonstall Park were necessitated by the sudden weakening of the ancient cannon supports..."

In 1930, the Watertown Annual Report cited that funds were utilized by the Park Association to repair vandalism to the Soldiers' Monument.

In the 1930s, the statue was relocated in Saltonstall Park in order to allow construction of the present Town Hall.  With this relocation, a plaza area was developed to incorporate the memorial.

Close examination of a photograph included in a 1982 filing with the Massachusetts Historical Commission indicates that the statue displayed the current state of hand missing, etc., and that the lawn was maintained at the time.  A survey report issued by the Save Our Sculptures Foundation in 1997 described the condition of the memorial as "treatment urgent."


History of the Cannons

The cannons located in the plot area fronting the statue have been identified as 32 pounder Navy guns of 57 hundredweight.  They were made by Cyrus Alger and Co. in South Boston, MA, in 1849.  The inspector was AAH, most probably Alexander Harwood, a naval officer.  There is no apparent record of ship service history on the pair.  They are registered under numbers 520 and 521, respectively.


A pair of Naval cannons are on display in front of the
Soldiers' Monument in Saltonstall Plaza


History of Saltonstall Plaza

In order to make room for the construction of the Watertown Town Hall, the statue was relocated, but remained in Staltonstall Park.  In 1981, the town received a grant of $280,000 from the National Park Service under the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery project.  The purpose was for the "beautification" of the park.  This project included the Plaza area.  The firm contracted for the design of this historic renovation was Gehry & Kreuger of Cambridge, MA.  The rededication of the Plaza in June, 1981, was highlighted by the words of Board of Selectman Thomas McDermott, who said, "...this beautification will forever remain a memorial to our democratic system of government" and that "it will be a constant reminder of the rich cultural heritage of the Town of Watertown."


Saltonstall Plaza