The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch is located on the northern end of Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. The tower is constructed of brownstone and terra cotta, and resembles two medieval towers connected overhead by a gothic arch. The entire structure is approximately 116 feet tall.
Local architect George Keller designed the arch. Originally an immigrant from Ireland, Keller had been building monuments to the Civil War across the United States, but wanted to create a unique one in his adopted hometown. The city of Hartford had originally set up a competition for design suggestions, with a prize of $3000. However, after running over budget and causing many debates within the city, Keller convinced the board to discard the results of the competition and adopt his plan instead. Keller decided to improve on an idea conceived by city board member Reverend Francis Goodwin, which had included two towers connected by an arch.
Keller was very successful at keeping the cost of the memorial within the budget. Instead of using granite and marble as his original plans stated, Keller switched to sandstone and terra cotta to lower construction costs. Keller also moved the location of the arch from the middle of the Ford Street Bridge to an area just south of the bridge, meaning Keller didn't have to work around existing structures, and therefore reduced costs even further. Keller and the city contracted the masonry work to Hiram Bissell and Augustus Budde, who had previously worked on the Connecticut capital building. Work on the arch began in the summer of 1884. The arch was completed and dedicated on August 16, 1886, the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The total cost of the monument was about $60000.
The completed arch is architecturally unusual, as it pleasingly combines three different styles. Medieval towers with conical spires support a large Gothic arch, and a classical sculptured frieze. Halfway between the ground and the arch on each tower are eight sculptures depicting residents of Hartford that participated in the Civil War: student, farmer, freed slave, carpenter, blacksmith and stone mason. On the faces of the arch are inscribed symbols representing the four aspects of the northern army: anchor for navy and crossed cannon for artillery on the north, crossed sabers for cavalry and crossed rifles for infantry on the south. Eight-foot statues adorned the top of each tower's spire, one of Gabriel and one of Raphael. In the east town lay the remains of George Keller and his wife, Mary.
Two terra-cotta tablets are located on the towers. On the south-east side of the east tower, and the south-west side of the south tower, the tablets read:
OF THE MEN OF HARTFORD
AND IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL
ON LAND AND SEA
IN THE WAR FOR THE UNION
THEIR GRATEFUL TOWNSMEN
HAVE RAISED THIS MEMORIAL
GEORGE KELLER ARCHITECT
CASPER BUBERL & SAMUEL KITSON SCULPTORS
Beginning in 1986, the arch underwent a $1.5 million restoration undertaken by the state of Connecticut. The terra-cotta statues of Gabriel and Raphael were removed, and replaced with bronze figures cast from the originals. All exposed stone was cleaned and repaired, returning the arch to its original condition. In addition, a bronze plaque was added below the freed slave to honor the 128 African American residents of Hartford who fought for the Union in the Civil War. The plaque was the result of research by seventh-grader Airron Bethea as a school project related to the rededication of the memorial.
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