Franklin County Civil War Memorial Located in Hampton

Five-score and four years ago, Franklin County residents completed a small brick gothic structure east of the courthouse in Hampton to honor their Civil War veterans. The structure is the only Civil War “Soldiers Memorial Hall” in Iowa and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet few people are aware of its significance.

According to Shirley Pitsor, a member of the Franklin County Historical Society and the Beeds Mill Questers , even local residents don’t know much about the hall. “I have given presentations to service and community groups and three-fourths of the people will say they have never been inside the building,” she says.

The hall was built after the 1884 Iowa General Assembly authorized counties to establish a tax, not to exceed $3000 to build soldiers’ monuments. The law stipulated that the monument list the names of the county’s deceased Civil War soldiers as well as all who served in the war and died later. Two years later, this law was amended to allow construction of a memorial hall instead of a monument. The Franklin County Board of Supervisors then put to the voters the question of instituting a tax for a memorial. The tax passed, but by such a narrow margin it led the editor of the Franklin County Recorder to lament, “It brings plainly before our eyes the unmistakable and painful fact that many of the high-sounding promises made by loyal men in 1861-1865 toward the soldier have not been kept. And stranger than all else it is living, moving evidence that if the soldier is to look for true and steadfast friends, he must look to other soldiers.” Nevertheless, te Hampton City Council donated land for the building and an impressive dedication ceremony was held for the memorial on August 27, 1890.

The 1800 U.S Census lists 716 adult males in Franklin County. Around 26% of that figure, 183 men in total, served in the Civil War. Even allowing for the influx of settlers, it is a staggering percentage. Of those who fought in the war, 45 did not return – 25% of those seeing service. Their names were engraved on a wall mounted marble tablet inside the hall – first those who were killed in action or died of wounds, then those who died in Confederate prisons and finally those who died of disease. Three other marble tablets list those who served in the war and died after its close.

The hall became a gathering place for the old soldiers of the local GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) post. “It probably was their support group,” says Pitsor for all that they had been through during the war.” Various groups used the hall for meetings over the years, but by 1933 it was in such bad repair that it had to be abandoned. The Soldiers Relief Commission stepped in and through the Civil Works Administration completed several repairs and improvements.

Memorial Hall is laid out in a Gothic floor plan. An arched entry and seven arched windows face the eight compass points. The top of each arch is filled with a stained-glass window depicting Union emblems. When constructed the hall featured an eight-sided domed ceiling. A dropped ceiling was installed in the 1940s on which were placed emblems honoring the GAR WRC (Women’s Relief Corps) American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and the Spanish War Veterans.

The exterior of the building and the grounds have undergone some changes but the one constant has been the statue of a Union soldier that has stood sentinel atop the hall for 104 years. His only leave from this post was a visit to St. Louis in 1991 for restoration work. The Beeds Mill Questers spearheaded this project. Previous repair efforts had left the statue worse for wear. The soldier’s original hands and rifle had deteriorated and had been replaced in 1967 with carved redwood replicas. In the 1980s his head had come off and was crudely reattached with wire mesh and an epoxy filler. By the time the Questers stepped in, the figure had become a home for birds that entered through holes in the outer skin and made their nests inside.

As all of this damage wasn’t bad enough once the soldier was taken down from his perch, restorers discovered that what had appeared to be his pant legs were actually sheet metal tubes. The statue actually had no legs or feet and was fastened below the roof line to the top of the building. “Once we saw that” says Pitsor, “we knew our estimate of $10,000 for restoration costs was going to be considerably more.” In the end costs doubled before the soldier returned to his post in July 1992. Today the hall is used for meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

To tour Memorial Hall call the

Franklin County Veterans Affairs Office at 641-456-5670.

Three Civil War Memorial Halls were built in the United States from 1868 to 1889.. They others are located in Foxborough, MA in 1868, and Aurora, IL In 1877. They each are octagonal-shaped Gothic Renaissance buildings made from local stone or brick.