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Lexington

Location: Cary Memorial Hall, 1605 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington
Coordinates: 42°26’48.4″N 71°13’26.5″W
Date dedicated: April 19, 1871
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Carl Conrads, sculptor for James G. Batterson’s New England Granite works
Number of names: 20 men who died in the war or in the ensuing years due to disease contracted in service

In 1871, Lexington constructed a new town hall and library building. The building itself was not a war memorial nor is the present Cary Memorial Hall which now houses the 1871 statues and plaques. The latter is a memorial to the Isaac Cary, so named by his two daughters who were the primary benefactors of that project. The 1871 building, designed by architects Gridley J. F. Bryant and Louis P. Rogers of Boston, incorporated a “Memorial Hall” in the center of the first floor. This octagonal room served as the vestibule to the library rooms and was intended to commemorate the patriotism and sacrifice of Lexington men in the Revolution and the Civil War.

Marble statues were placed in four niches of the hall. The first two, produced by James G. Batterson’s New England Granite Works, represented “The Minuteman of ’76” and “The Union Soldier.” They were funded by Mrs. Maria Cary. These were in place when the building was dedicated on April 19, 1871. Adjacent plaques listed those from Lexington who died in the Revolution and the Civil War. In 1875, just in time for the centennial of the Battle of Lexington, these two statues were joined by marble likenesses of Samuel Adams and John Hancock.[1]

IMG_1887 (2)
A fine marble version of “The American Volunteer” by Conrads

Batterson had many sculptors working on contract for him. His chief sculptor was Carl Conrads who is responsible for numerous well-known works. One of his most prominent is the colossal “American Volunteer,” sculpted for the Antietam National Cemetery. The statue (21 feet high, not including the pedestal) was first exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, then moved to Maryland. While the Antietam monument was under construction, Conrads’s “Volunteer” was reproduced in smaller form for many communities across the North including a few in Massachusetts–Lexington, Billerica, and Braintree among them. The Lexington version is unusual in that it was carved from marble for an indoor setting (other examples are granite) and it was placed quite early (1871), possibly making it the first copy in Massachusetts. Because it was carved from marble and intended for close viewing, it is particularly fine in its details and proportions, more so than some of the rougher copies which stand atop high pedestals elsewhere. The sculptor of the Minuteman, which was also produced by Batterson, is not known. It is possible that Conrads may have been responsible for both.

On the day the Memorial Hall was dedicated, George B. Loring gave the oration. A state representative, senator, and later a U.S. Congressman, Loring was a popular speaker and delivered many such dedication addresses across the state. In his remarks, he tied together the purpose of the two wars. “The great war for the Union,” he said, “not only confirmed our nationality, but revealed its true proportions, purified it, brought it back to the sublime object of its founders, taught the world to respect its skill and valor in conflict on land and on sea, and to admire its devotion to the broadest doctrines of human rights as the foundation of good government.”[3]

By 1928, the town hall had grown cramped, housing not only a growing library, but several municipal offices including the police department. The Second Empire architectural style was also falling quickly out of fashion as architects turned to Colonial Revival. The town built a new complex of municipal buildings in 1928 with the Isaac Cary Memorial Building, featuring a large concert hall, at its center. The marble plaques and statues were moved to Cary Hall when the old town hall was demolished in 1928.[4]

[1] “Dedication of Memorial and Town Hall at Lexington,” Boston Traveler, April 19, 1871, 4.
[2] Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913), 291-2.
[3] “Dedication of Memorial and Town Hall at Lexington,” 26.
[4] Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc., “A History of the Lexington Municipal Buildings“, 10-16.