Thanksgiving Day 100 years ago -- besides the traditional turkey dinners and football games -- featured a long-awaited community event. Thursday, Nov. 27, 1902, the cornerstone was placed for the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton.. (The centennial will be observed in a public program in the building from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.)
Prominent in the ceremonies that 1902 morning were local members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Civil War veterans. The group included representatives of GAR posts based in Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown.
GAR members formed at Third and High streets before marching to the construction site on the riverbank. The Apollo Band led the procession that began at 8:45 a.m. Brief comments were offered by L. P. Huston, president of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Permanent Monument Committee, and E. M. Imes, GAR commander.
A news report said the cornerstone was placed "amid the falling snow," the first of the season. After the GAR ritual and flag raising, it was "then announced that owing to the uncomfortable weather, the assembly would adjourn to the Globe Theater, where the addresses would be made."
Speakers at the Globe Opera House (later the Robinson-Schwenn Building on High Street at Journal Square) included Colonel D. W. McClung of Cincinnati and Warren Gard, Butler County prosecutor who later would be elected to Congress and the county common pleas bench. Prayers were led by the Rev. Charles E. Schenck, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
"The Monument you begin today," McClung said, "will always remain an open and unperishable proclamation by the patriotic people of this county, notifying the world that they hold in highest appreciation the work of the builders and defenders of our institutions."
Later, the memorial supporters would declare that the Monument was erected by grateful citizens to "perpetuate the memory of the soldiers, sailors and pioneers of Butler County," with "the hope and with the prayer that the eyes and hearts of future generations may be as loyal to the flag of our free government as the persons whose names are enrolled on its sacred walls."
The monument -- on land that had been in the center of Fort Hamilton in the 1790s -- was financed by a county-wide tax levy approved Dec. 7, 1899.
The campaign for a memorial began two years earlier -- in July 1897 -- among members of Wetzel-Compton Post, GAR. The Civil War veterans said they had waited 32 years after the end of the Civil War and had seen previous memorial committees get nowhere. Within two years, the committee had won the support of the City of Hamilton, and county and state government.
Boosting the project -- once considered dead because of a lack of enthusiasm -- was a revival of patriotism during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Heading the effort was James E. Campbell, a native of Middletown, a long-time resident of Hamilton, a Civil War veteran and a former Ohio governor. The building was designed by two local men, Frederich Noonan, an architect, and John C. Weaver, an engineer.
With funding assured, site preparation started in April 1901. Work on the limestone structure and its steel framework began in the spring of 1902, setting the stage for the Thanksgiving Day cornerstone ceremony.
The building shell was completed in October 1904. One of the Monument's most distinctive features -- a 17-foot, 3,500-pound Civil War soldier -- was placed atop the building the morning of Dec. 4, 1904. The soldier -- in a victorious pose -- was created by a local artist, Rudolph Thiem, a German immigrant who had arrived in Hamilton in 1886.
The final celebration was July 4, 1906, when the completed Monument was dedicated. The featured speaker was Gov. Andrew L. Harris, a Butler County native and a veteran of the Civil War.
The 1899 tax levy generated $71,267.25. When completed, Monument construction had cost $71,266.73 -- leaving a positive balance of 52 cents, a rare accomplishment for a public project.