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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #117 
June 17, 2011

Four new history exhibits are going on simultaneously this summer in historic Portsmouth, so I thought I’d write a “behind the scenes” column about each. The first on the enormous “Sawtelle Collection” of maritime paintings at the Discover Portsmouth Center was easy. I just excerpted a chunk of the new book I wrote with Richard Candee and other local history experts. The next two exhibits are on the Civil War, this being the 150th anniversary of that horrific event. We have only two monuments in town, both focused on that war. Now we have two exhibits – one at the Portsmouth Athenaeum on the USS Kearsage and one at Strawbery Banke on Gen. Fitz-John Porter. Each exhibit conveniently revolves around one of those memorials. I started the Kearsage story when it occurred to me that in 1999 I actually went inside the Sailors and Soldiers Monument. I know those photos are around here somewhere. (Continued below)

READ:The complete feature article here

These images aren’t great. They were taken with my first digital camera in black and white. I didn’t have a very good flash attachment and the minute I got inside the monument and saw what shape it was in, I wanted to get out. But it makes a nice lead to Monday’s upcoming story. For those skeptics who think I make this crazy stuff up, I offer photographic evidence that the guts of this 1888 zinc alloy memorial were a mess in the final months of the 20th century. It took $127,000 to restore this Civil War memorial on Islington Street. You can read all about that in the upcoming article in my series. For now, here’s the pix.


In 1999 while working on the renovated Goodwin Park, Portsmouth City officials took another look inside the 1888 zinc alloy monument. The structure was lowered in 1955 and this crawl space was cut into the skin of the monument.


Inside the monument is a maintenance person's nightmare


The original metal armatures have long since rusted. The weight of the monument cracked the zinc exterior, causing leaks that rotted wooden timbers inside. More than a century of repair is evident with rubber caulking, tar patches cement fill.


This shot shows how completely the original steel structure has rusted away. Pieces literally dangle in the wind blowing through cracks in the surface. Preservationists expect the repair of the "white bronze" Civil War monument to run to $125,000. Even allowing for inflation, the monument repair cost is higher than its original purchase price.


Back outside, Goodwin Park has since been newly renovated with a $250,000 HUD grant.. The tablet in the foreground was originally placed in Haymarket Square as a memorial to local men killed in World War 1.


The role of those killed in the battle is a reminder of the reason we build monuments in the first place, to provide some lasting record of the true cost of war.

All photos by J. dennis Robinson




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