A lasting memorial to veterans

First Posted: 6/18/2008

LIMA - It was 100 years ago this week that Lima braced itself for one of the largest gatherings this town had ever seen. In fact, Memorial Hall was dedicated just for the occasion - the week Civil War veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic came to town.

The statewide encampment was something area residents had lobbied several years to secure. As early as 1906, folks had hoped that the local Mort Armstrong Post of the GAR could host the annual event. And in 1907, many from Lima were encouraged to travel across the state to Canton to promote Lima for the following year's encampment.

As the paper reported, "Lima residents need to show up in number to show the boys in blue proof of a city big enough, proud enough and determined enough when it comes to facilities and hospitality" to host such a gathering.

Along with promising unbounding hospitality, local folks sweetened the pot by promising a new building - a memorial of sorts - to honor those soldiers who gave their lives for the cause.

Already plans for the building had been discussed in Lima.

The Lima Progressive Association, whose members included many Civil War veterans, first floated the idea of a memorial building to the Allen County Commissioners as early as 1906. Although finding the idea solid, commissioners could not afford to fund construction of the building from county coffers.

Instead they placed a bond issue on the November ballot that year, which was overwhelmingly approved.

The next step was to determine a location for the new building. While many thought the building should be housed in Lima's Town Square, there were others who believed the city cemetery would be the perfect location, while others believed Main Street at the bridge was the logical choice.

Eventually a 200-by-200-feet lot at the corner of Elm and Elizabeth streets was secured. The new building would front on Elm Street, but also have entrances on Elizabeth Street. On the east side, a rest room for the ladies and a smoking room for the men would be built. A grand staircase inside the main entrance connected the second floor gallery, lodge and lecture room.

It was an industrious project by anyone's measure. But area residents were concerned whether the new building would be done in time to house the encampment, as had been promised.

"It is concerned that a building of such proportions and designed to contain considerable in the way of decoration marble, alabaster, mosaic, etc. ... cannot be hurried through like an ordinary structure in which there would be no injury in the particular line of beauty," the newspaper informed residents.

Meanwhile, the cornerstone was laid in November 1907, filled with important documents for the building. There were the plans for the hall, drawn by Dawson and McLaughlin, architects. Also included in that box were business cards from a variety of local businessmen, newspaper clippings, a series of current stamps, the history of Allen County, a catalog of the Lima College, the deed for the ground on which Memorial Hall stood, a silk flag, and a scrapbook of meeting notes from the planning of the immense structure.

As newspapers continued the countdown towards the June encampment, the building was turned over to the Allen County Commissioners in February 1908. Although not completely finished, the local paper noted that it's "one of the finest and most commodious auditoriums in the state for conventions, fraternal and political, as well as for entertainment that demands large audiences."

The building was dedicated on June 12, 1908.

Four days later, the GAR veterans came en masse to town.

In fact, it was an estimated crowd of nearly 25,000 people who came to town for the encampment. Kicking off the event was a two-mile parade that was expected to take one hour to walk. As the local paper noted, ambulances were put on stand-by as "the old boys are not as spry as they once were, and if the day be exceptionally hot, there will no doubt be more than one old veteran succumb before the march is completed."

After the parade, days passed with musical performances offered, speeches given and flags presented. And at night, there was always a campfire.

When the crowd left town, Lima congratulated itself on throwing a party for the ages. And on its new Memorial Hall.

However, the old soldiers were not as impressed with the building, many finding it too opulent for their tastes. "The beauty of Memorial Hall, its marble columns, its easy steps and artistic finishing, have already palled on the old comrades and they long for the old assembly room on the third floor of the old city building. Those rooms that are filled with memories of soldiers now gone."

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