Lancaster’s Thayer Memorial Library (Worcester County)

LancasterLocation: Thayer Memorial Library, 717 Main Street, Lancaster
Coordinates: 42°27’18.6″N 71°40’21.3″W
Date dedicated: June 1868
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Ryder and Harris of Boston, architects
Number of names: Interior tablet lists 39 men who died in the war

Originally known as Lancaster Memorial Hall, the building had, according the Boston Journal, “a two-fold design–to furnish a Memorial Hall and a library room.”[1] The Memorial Hall was dedicated to the 39 Lancaster men who gave their lives during the Civil War. Nathaniel Thayer, Jr., a financier invested in railroad companies and manufacturing, donated roughly two-thirds of the necessary funds and so the building today bears his name. He had several other philanthropic interests including the funding of Thayer Hall at Harvard in memory of his father and brother.

A tablet in the entryway bears an inscription, “1653-1868. This Edifice to the Sole Honor and Memory, under God, of Those Brave and Loyal Volunteers, Native or Resident of Lancaster, Who Fell Maintaining the Nation’s Cause in the Battles of the Great Rebellion, is Erected on the Verge of a Field Long Used by the Inhabitants as a Military Muster Ground, and Near the Fourth Building of the Town’s First Church, Instituted 1653.”[2]

Lancaster tablet
Tablet photo courtesy of the Thayer Memorial Library

Another tablet inside records the names of the 39 men from Lancaster who died in the war, arranged in chronological order according to their date of death. The first four names, George Wright Cutler, Walter Raymond Lawrence, James Gardner Warner, and Luther Gray Turner were all members of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, killed or mortally wounded during the Battle of Balls Bluff, Virginia on October 21, 1861 (a crushing defeat for the Union). These first deaths, representing one-tenth of the men from Lancaster then in service, must have been a heavy blow to the town. As a 19th century local historian put it, the loss “brought the dread realities of war to many homes and hearts.”[3]

One stained glass window in the central Memorial hall was known as the “war window” and bore martial emblems. Another was known as the “peace window” and bore an inscription, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; neither shall they learn war anymore.”[4]

[1] “Lancaster Memorial Hall,” Boston Journal, November 14, 1868, 4.
[2] Address Given at the Dedication of Memorial Hall, Lancaster…with Appendices (Boston: Nichols and Noyes, 1868), 67-68.
[3] Rev. Abijah P. Marvin, History of the town of Lancaster, Massachusetts : from the first settlement to the present time, 1643-1879, (Lancaster: Published by the town, 1879), 695.
[4] Address Given at the Dedication of Memorial Hall, Lancaster…with Appendices, 70.

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