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Mothballed Civil War tablets could find new home in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Civil War tablets stored at the Ruxton gravel pit in Amherst being shown to Town Meeting members prior to a 2009 vote on using Community )Preservation Act money for their restoration. Courtesy town of Amherst. —Submitted Photo

  • Civil War tablets stored on custom-built supports at the Ruxton gravel pit in Amherst. Courtesy town of Amherst. —Submitted Photo



Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2020

AMHERST — Large marble tablets that commemorate those from Amherst who fought in the Civil War, including African-American soldiers from the famed 54th Regiment, have been in storage for most of the past 20 years after they were removed from Town Hall during a renovation project in the 1990s.

After numerous discussions by town officials about how to get the five plaques, each measuring 56 by 75 inches and weighing between 600 and 800 pounds, back on display, a granddaughter of a resident who came up with one of the most detailed plans to present them in 2000 is hoping to finish his effort.

Anika Lopes, who recently moved to Amherst from Brooklyn, New York, told the Historical Commission at a recent meeting that she is in the midst of developing a proposal, which could be unveiled by summer, to complete the project begun by her late grandfather, Dudley Bridges.

Bridges, who died in 2004, developed a plan to place the tablets in the Gates Lot at the corner of Main and Lessey streets, near the metal sculptures depicting a conversation between Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. In 2001, the Select Board endorsed his plan over a competing one that would have placed the monuments in front of Town Hall.

But that’s as far as the plan advanced. The marble tablets, which have been restored and cleaned using Community Preservation Act money, have remained in storage at the Ruxton gravel pit in North Amherst.

Lopes told the commission that she understands money would need to be raised for the project, both for installation and long-term maintenance.

Lopes, who is also the great-granddaughter of Gil Roberts, the famed banjo player whose international career spanned eight decades and whose image is on the Amherst History Mural, said she also has spoken to people who worked on the movie “Glory,” which in part recounts the exploits of the 54th Regiment.

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

Senior Planner Nathaniel Malloy said challenges for displaying them will be the need for protective glazing and a mounting system and ensuring that they are not susceptible to damage from extremes in temperature and humidity.

In addition, Malloy said the tablets are meant to be seen sequentially and need to be in a large enough space so that they can be viewed together, rather than separately.

A small dedication plaque introduces the other five. That plaque reads, “These tablets are to perpetuate the memories of the soldiers and sailors of Amherst who served in the War of the Rebellion.” The remaining plaques contain the names of those who fought and died in the war, with the notations “our dead in the War to the Preserve the Union” and the phrase “to die for the Nation is to live,” followed by a roll call of Civil War combat veterans.

One of the last ideas for putting them in public view came in 2015 when space for the plaques was considered to be included in an expanded and renovated Jones Library. In 2012, then-Town Manager John Musante announced that the plaques would be displayed in the Town Room at Town Hall, but that plan fell through due to concerns about whether the floor and walls on the second floor could support them.

Whatever plan is developed, Malloy said the Historical Commission could take a lead role and then have the town manager and Town Council make final decisions.