Dickinson Memorial Hall, Hatfield (Hampshire County)

Location: 39 Main Street, Hatfield
Coordinates: 42°22’12.3″N 72°35’48.6″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1894
Architect: Unknown

Hatfield’s Civil War memorials offer some unusual and unsolved mysteries.

In the collections of the Hatfield Historical Society on exhibit at the historical museum in Dickinson Memorial Hall are the fragments of what seems to be Hatfield’s first Civil War memorial. The broken pieces of marble bear the names of some of Hatfield’s soldiers in the Civil War. These tablets are consistent with the early memorials installed in town halls and libraries in other towns. It seems Hatfield residents first placed these marble tablets (possibly in the old Town Hall which no longer stands) and apparently removed them when they were superseded by a larger and more elaborate memorial. When they might have been installed, and where, and when they were disposed of is all presently unclear.

Tablet fragment in Hatfield History Museum. With thanks to the museum for allowing the photo to be taken.

A new and lasting memorial came in the form of Dickinson Memorial Hall. Around 1890, the voters of Hatfield discussed the various needs of the town during a town meeting. These included a new town hall, a library, and  some sort of memorial to the town’s soldiers. The town could not afford to take on all these projects at once and so debate centered on prioritizing. Samuel H. Dickinson, a farmer who had accumulated something of a fortune, quietly took a friend aside and told him, “I will make the town a present of a memorial hall.” The project was important to him, he said, and asked his friend, who was a better public speaker than Dickinson, to announce this to the meeting. Dickinson ended up donating $12,000 to the construction of a memorial hall, library, and space for town offices. The town appropriated an additional $2,000.[1]

The building was constructed in 1892-1893 and dedicated on Memorial Day 1894. Originally, it housed a historical room and the town clerk’s office on the first floor with the town library on the second floor. This is now reversed with the library on the first floor and the museum of the Hatfield Historical Society on the second floor. The building includes bronze plaques dedicated to some of the town’s settlers taken captive during colonial wars with the French and Native Americans. There were also bronze plaques listing the names of the men of Hatfield who served in the Revolution and the Civil War.[2]

The grounds are ornamented with four surplus cannons (which represent a third Civil War memorial). These were given to the town in 1882 by a vote of Congress (the federal government periodically disposed of surplus war materiel to municipalities who wanted them for memorial purposes). They first adorned one of the town’s cemeteries and were later moved to the new Memorial Hall.

Oddly, the bronze plaques bearing the names of the soldiers of the Revolution and the Civil War, which apparently once adorned the entry hall, are no longer there. Their current whereabouts forms another mystery.

According to a History of Hatfield by Daniel White Wells and Rueben Field Wells, 24 Hatfield men died in the war (14 in battle or of wounds received in battle, 2 in Confederate prisons, and 8 of disease). 112 soldiers and sailors in all were credited to Hatfield during the war. They served in a variety of regiments. The largest number, 26 of them, belonged to the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry. This was a nine-months unit recruited from Hampshire and Franklin counties which saw combat in Louisiana. The first Hatfield man to die in service was Elbridge D. Clifford who served with the 21st Massachusetts Infantry. He was wounded during the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia—a terrible calamity for that regiments as they were taken by surprise and routed. Many men became separated from the regiment, including Private Clifford who marched 15 miles, despite his wound, in an effort to catch up with them. Sadly, he succumbed to exhaustion and died in a hospital in Washington.[3]

[1] Boston Globe, May 31, 1894, 9.

[2] Daniel White Wells and Reuben Field Wells, A History of Hatfield Massachusetts in Three Parts (Springfield: F. C. H. Gibbons, 1910), 238; and Boston Journal, May 31, 1894.

[3] Wells and Wells, 230.

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