Athol in Worcester County has two Civil War monuments. The most prominent is the elegant marble tablet in Memorial Hall. An earlier statue of a soldier at parade rest stands in Highland Cemetery.
Athol Memorial Hall
Location: 584 Main Street, Athol
Coordinates: 42°35’38.6″N 72°13’41.1″W
Date dedicated: June 17, 1924
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Brainerd, Leeds & Kellogg with Oscar A. Thayer
In the years prior to World War I, a number of Athol residents were pushing for the construction of an imposing war memorial to those residents who served in wars since colonial times. They were led by Frank E. Wing, an influential citizen and treasurer of the L. S. Starrett Company–a major tool manufacturing company and perhaps the largest industry in town at the time. After World War I, when the town voted to proceed with a new town hall, Wing convinced the planners to incorporate a war memorial in the plans. He also convinced his employer, Laroy S. Starrett, to donate land adjacent to his manufacturing company for the town’s building. Governor Channing Cox presided at the cornerstone laying in 1922. The building was completed in 1924.
When finished, the beautiful tablets inside the capacious main foyer listed the names of those from Athol who served in all wars up to World War I. During the dedication of the building, Gen. Clarence R. Edwards, late commander of the Yankee Division, gave the oration of the day. Of the memorial, local historian William Lord wrote, “While our Memorial Building commemorates the services of all our soldiers since Colonial days yet it is particularly a World War I Memorial as it was planned and completed in the years succeeding that war.” The Athol memorial therefore represents a different sort of memorial of the “honor roll” type which emerged after World War I. While not strictly a Civil War memorial, there is no denying that a portion of it serves to memorialize those who fought to preserve the Union and so it is included in our project.
The building’s design was a collaborative effort between two architectural firms, Brainerd, Leeds & Kellogg and Oscar A. Thayer. The former was known for the design of several high schools in Massachusetts including those in Belmont, Billerica and the Metcalf School in Franklin. Oscar Thayer ran a busy firm which designed numerous buildings in and around Boston–particularly in West Roxbury. He designed the West Roxbury library and several houses in the Highland and Bellevue Hill neighborhoods.
Athol sent 340 men to the war. Of these, 50 did not survive (14 were killed in action or died of wounds, 34 died of disease, and 2 died in accidents). Athol’s soldiers served with numerous different regiments but the two largest groups, and therefore the regiments which had particularly special meaning to the citizens of Athol, were 60 volunteers who became Company B of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry and 51 men who formed the bulk of Company E of the 53rd Massachusetts. The former was recruited by Adin W. Caswell of Athol, who became the company’s captain. They were given an elaborate send-off on the Town Common and the Summit House with a dinner, ceremonies and a sword and sash presentation to Capt. Caswell on October 4, 1861 and bands played as they embarked on the trains. The latter company was commanded by Farwell F. Fay of Athol and went into camp on October 1, 1862 with rather less pomp and circumstance as the enthusiasm of the early war months had waned. The 27th Massachusetts took part in eleven battles, four skirmishes, and long period of siege operations. In two instances, once during a Confederate attack in dense fog at Drury’s Bluff, Virginia of May 16, 1864 and later at the disastrous Battle of Wyse Fork, North Carolina on March 10, 1865, large portions of this regiment were captured and taken prisoner. Athol therefore had a larger proportion of men (as compared to most towns) who suffered the trials of the prisoner of war camp.
In 1866, the town created an earlier monument of a different sort in the form of a book, The Record of Athol, Massachusetts in Suppressing the Great Rebellion. Such works covering the history of the town’s actions during the war and the service records of her soldiers are relatively rare. Athol’s is particularly detailed with brief biographical sketches of every soldier from that town who served.
Click to enlarge images:
Highland Cemetery Monument
Location: Highland Cemetery, 1890 Main Street, Athol
Coordinates: 42°35’17.9″N 72°12’36.2″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1896
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Monumental Bronze Company, Bridgeport, CT
The marble foyer of Memorial Hall was not the first Civil War memorial erected in Athol. About 1900, the local Grand Army of the Republic and Matrons of the Republic posts paid for a more modest monument to adorn the soldiers’ plot in Highland Cemetery. As with most G.A.R. cemetery monuments, the soldiers’ plot memorial bore no names but instead a general commemorative inscription. It should be noted that Athol’s inscription was considerably longer and more expressive than most soldiers’ plot markers. It reads, “Erected by the members of Parker Post No. 123 G.A.R. and Post No. 3 Matrons of the Republic/In grateful remembrance of the brave defenders of the Union for their valor and devotion/This monument is erected to commemorate the services of the soldiers and sailors who served in the war for the Union/In memory of those who hastened to the rescue when treason raised its hand to draw the life blood of our beloved country.”
The monument was produced by the Monumental Bronze Company and was cast in “white bronze” or zinc. The material, and the fact that they are hollow, made them an affordable option for smaller towns or out-of-the way cemetery monuments. The company produced a great many of this design (roughly 15 in Massachusetts) which they called, simply, “The Infantryman.”
It was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1896 along with the soldiers’ plot which was gifted by the town. The past post commander George S. Evans gave the dedication address. According to the Worcester Daily Spy, “He referred to the great work and sacrifices of women in the war and what had been done by them since the war for their comrades of the Grand Army.”
 William G. Lord, History of Athol, Massachusetts, (Somerville: Somerville Printing Co., 1953), 260-261.  Lord, 448.  “Athol Town Hall – Memorial Building,” Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System  John F. Norton, The Record of Athol, Massachusetts in Suppressing the Great Rebellion, (Boston: G. C. Rand & Avery, 1866), 79.  Norton, 29-30, 53-54.  Norton, 91.  “Dedication of New Soldiers’ Monument at the Highlands in Athol,” Worcester Daily Spy, May 31, 1896.