Restoration underway on Derby Civil War Monument
DERBY— The black grime and greenish corrosion from 140 years of acid rain is being washed away.
The chiseled letters identifying the battles at Atlanta, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and New Bern that killed 82 Derby and Huntington soldiers are being reformed.
And the bronze rifle strap and bayonet torn from his body are being replaced.
Slowly, the weary Civil War soldier leaning against his long-barreled rifle is being reborn, thanks to contributions for restoration.
“I’m hoping to be done by the end of September,” said Francis Miller of Conserv Art, LLC in Hamden, which is doing the $72,000 job. “The granite was absolutely filthy. I doubt there was ever much cleaning done.”
Miller’s firm is known for its historic preservation work on such well-known structures as New Haven’s Soldiers and Sailors monument, New Britain’s World War I monument and the Deerfield, Mass., Civil War monument.
It was back in 1875 when $1,475 — mostly in $10-20 donations — was raised by the Elisha S. Kellogg Post No. 26 of the Grand Army of the Republic to build the pedestal for what would be a Civil War monument. Kellogg, a member of the Second Artillery Unit, died on June 1, 1864. The base was dedicated on July 4, 1877.
An additional $3,200 was raised to hire Maurice J. Power of New York and M.J. Walsh to design, cast and erect the bronze Soldier.
Decades of damage
Early last year, Jamie Cohen, a retired local lawyer and former chairman of the Valley Community Foundation, brought attention to the deteriorating statue by appearing before the Derby and Shelton boards of aldermen.
“Both municipalities stepped forward, and that was the key to bringing notice to the project,” Cohen said. “We had $25,000 out of the gate.”
Now about $56,000 of the $72,000 total cost has been raised.
For Cohen and many Valley families, the statue became a meeting ground over the decades for families relaxing on the Green and a play station for imaginative children pretending to fight long-ago battles.
It also became a potential money source for thieves who pried off bronze pieces like the soldier’s rifle strap and bayonet and cannon straps. One tried to pry off the plaque containing Kellogg’s name, but only bent it.
And that’s what caught Cohen’s attention in 2014 while walking on the Green.
“I started walking around it and I saw the broken letters, the initials scratched into a plaque,” he said. “I couldn’t believe someone would be so disrespectful.”
That’s when Cohen decided he would take action.
“People have been so generous,” he said. “On Memorial Day, people handed me $150 for the restoration.”
For the past month, with weather permitting, Miller and his employees have been restoring the monument using a scaffold. They’ve been cleaning and repairing the granite, the plaques and the soldier.
“There are about 50 sizable chips in the letters naming the battlefields,” he said. “It looks like they were beaten with a hammer.”
To recreate them, Miller collected pieces of Westerly, R.I., granite — like the type used to carve the original letters. He pulverized, washed, sieved and color-matched the pieces before reforming them on chipped statue letters.
To repair the rifle, Miller had to identify it through historic photos to make replacements.
“We sculpted the replacement rifle strap and bayonet elements in plasticine, made molds of the models and recast them in wax,” he said. “The foundry is currently casting bronze replacements.”
To remove the greenish tint caused by sulfur emitted into the atmosphere by the coal-burning factories in Derby, Shelton and Ansonia, Miller used three chemicals.
“First we did color tests to determine which chemicals worked best without bleaching or causing damage,” Miller explained.
His next step is to coat the base, apply pigment to unify the colors visually and then brush additional top coats to prevent further corrosion.
“The coating I selected will last at least 15 years,” he said, “and then another 10 years after a cleaning.”
He expects the base and the statue to be completed in the next month or so, and then to move on to the four iron cannons.
The 4,200-pound cannons, also known as parrot rifles, were cast at the West Point Foundry in 1861.
“We believe we can save about $10,000 by using the Department of Public Works equipment to lift the cannons to build a new foundation underneath them,” said Cohen. “They are sinking into the ground.”
Cohen said the savings would be applied to install lighting around the statue, making it more visible and less prone to vandalism.
“The police are in favor of that,” he said.
So on the morning of June 8, Cohen, Miller, Public Works Director Anthony DeFala and Michael Ullrich, an electrical contractor, met at the site to plan that phase.
DeFala suggested that the cannons be lifted from the site and stored at Public Works while footings, a granite base, trenching and electrical work is done. The plan also calls for replacing the concrete platform surrounding the statue.
Miller said the cannons will be repositioned to point upward, cleaned, treated with a corrosion convertor and protective coating.
“One of these cannons is especially remarkable,” said Miller. “It has a long dent in the barrel and then a spherical dent near the firing chamber. Initially I thought that may have been caused by it being dropped, but now I am convinced it was hit by an incoming cannonball.”
Once the repairs are finished, there is to be a re-dedication ceremony.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves by scheduling something now,” Miller said.
Anyone interested in making a tax-free donation to the restoration can do so by mailing a check to the Valley Community Foundation, 253-A Elizabeth Street, Derby, CT. 06418.