Site of Civil War monument was controversial
Memorial Day was first celebrated a few years after the Civil War. Most area towns lost men in the conflict and have a monument of some kind. They range from Milford’s elaborate monument on the Town Common to Wilton’s fairly plain square stone in a small park beside Forest Road.
Some of them feature a soldier standing solemnly with his rifle. He is a generic soldier fashioned by local granite companies.
Most of the monuments are either on the town common or in front of town hall. Lyndeborough’s was supposed to be, but because of controversy, it isn’t. It stands at one side of the South Cemetery.
In 1871, Grand Army of the Republic Harvey Holt Post 15 voted to start saving money to erect a Soldiers’ Monument. A committee of 15 was named, including five members of the GAR, to procure the monument and find a site for it.
Holt was the town’s first casualty in the war, and his is said to be the first death from New Hampshire. At least one other town claims that distinction, as well. Holt died in 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run.
In 1879, with a $250 donation from the town, the committee contracted with J.H. Brennan of Peterborough to build the monument. It is made of granite from Fitzwilliam and totals 15 feet, 6 inches above the top of the base. It is described as being a base, plinth, die, cap and shaft.
It was to be dedicated on July 4, 1879, located on land in South Lyndeborough owned by Joel Tarbell, about where the Village Common is now. Tarbell was the captain of the Lafayette Artillery Company, which had done garrison duty at Fort Constitution in Portsmouth.
However, on July 3, it was announced that because of a disagreement, a site hadn’t been selected. Apparently there were residents who thought the monument should be in Lyndeborough Center near Town Hall. And apparently there was no possibility of agreement.
The solution was a compromise offered by Rufus Chamberlain: a small knoll across the road from the South Cemetery. His only condition was that the cemetery wall be moved to enclose it. The monument was dedicated on Christmas Eve.
The wall, however, wasn’t moved for another 10 years, probably because the cemetery was twice enlarged and about a half mile of road had to be relocated to provide access to the new sections. The original entrance to the cemetery is by way of a set of granite steps from Furnace Hill Road.
Peter Cram sold the town a few acres in 1888 for cemetery expansion, and Chamberlain did the same the next year. The new road was built in 1890.
Relocating the road involved straightening Cram Hill Road to Cemetery Road, avoiding a small brook and wetlands, and also a short piece of Furnace Hill Road to also join Cemetery Road. There are several entrances to the "new" cemetery off Cemetery Road, and the steps are rarely used. A piece of the old road still exists along a portion of the original wall, and signs of that road can be found in the wetland, including a stone slab bridge.
The Soldiers’ Monument lists the 14 Lyndeborough men who died during the conflict, but only four of them in battle. The rest of them died of disease, one at the infamous Andersonville Prison in 1864.
They will be duly remembered by members of Lafayette Artillery Company on Memorial Sunday.