Melrose Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Hall (Middlesex County)

Location: Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Hall, 590 Main Street, Melrose
Coordinates: 42°27’25.8″N 71°03’50.9″W
Date dedicated: December 14, 1912
Architect/Contractor: George F. Newton, Boston, architect; McDonald & Joslin, Boston, contractor

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Building in Melrose was made possible by a generous donation from John C. F. Slayton. He owned a successful Boston produce company, settled in Melrose, and became one of the city’s most prominent citizens. Other funds also came from the city’s budget and other donors. The building is constructed from granite recycled from the 1830 Boston Federal Court House–the scene of dramatic attempts during the 1850s on the part of abolitionists to rescue fugitive slaves captured by bounty hunters. These events drastically increased national tensions over slavery in the years leading up to the war. The cornerstone was laid in May 1912 and the dedication took place in December of the same year.[1]

The ceremonies on that occasion were witnessed by approximately 2,500 attendees. John Slayton, serving as Chair of the Building Committee, gave the main address. He offered a tribute to the 454 men from Melrose who served in the Civil War.[2]

The auditorium saw all manner of entertainments and gatherings in the 20th century, hosting famed performers. A smaller gathering hall on the upper floor was used as the headquarters of the local Grand Army of the Republic U.S. Grant Post No. 4. By the 1990s, the building’s condition has seriously declined. A master plan was developed in 1995. Extensive renovations and updates to the building took place in phases from 1996 through 2008. Today the building once again hosts both public and private events and is a popular performance venue.[3]

Melrose was one of a few towns in Massachusetts that created a memorial in book form just after the war, publishing a volume dedicated to those from the town who served. The Melrose memorial : the annals of Melrose, county of Middlesex, Massachusetts, in the great rebellion of 1861-’65, written by Elbridge Henry Goss and published in 1868, details town’s involvement in the war. A few facts  from this lengthy and highly comprehensive history stand out:

According to Goss, a total of 203 Melrose men served during the war. He lists 23 who died in the war, whether on the battlefield, in the hospital, or at home due to wounds or disease resulting from their service.[4] The first group of Melrose men to volunteer were members of a prewar militia company in neighboring South Reading (now Wakefield). This company was part of the 5th Massachusetts Militia and saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run. Unlike other towns, Melrose did not raise its own company.[5] Instead, volunteers individually sought out companies to join and therefore Melrose’s soldiers were more scattered than most towns. A group of fourteen volunteers represented an exception to this, rallying together shortly after the start of the war to join the 4th Battalion of Rifles which became part of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry. This unit saw hard combat with the Army of the Potomac. Two of these men were killed and four wounded during the Battle of Antietam where the 13th Massachusetts suffered heavy casualties.

[1]Melrose,” Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information system.

[2]  “Memorial to Soldiers and Sailors,” Boston Globe, December 15, 1912, 5.

[3]Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building History,” City of Melrose.

[4] Elbridge Henry Goss, The Melrose memorial : the annals of Melrose, county of Middlesex, Massachusetts, in the great rebellion of 1861-’65 (Boston: A. Mudge & Son, 1868), 137-138.

[5] Goss, 13.

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