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Civil War soldier statue to leave Greensburg museum post

| Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 11:02 a.m.
The decades-old soldier monument will be moved from outside the Westmoreland Museum  of American Art in Greensburg. A committee will decide where the monument will be relocated.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
The decades-old soldier monument will be moved from outside the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg. A committee will decide where the monument will be relocated. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
The decades-old soldier monument will be moved from outside the Westmoreland Museum of American Art on Main Street in Greensburg.  A committee will decide on the new location.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
The decades-old soldier monument will be moved from outside the Westmoreland Museum of American Art on Main Street in Greensburg. A committee will decide on the new location. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

He has kept a silent vigil over Greensburg for more than a half-century, staring down from his 25-foot perch off North Main Street.

But now, the 6-foot-tall Civil War soldier cast in bronze ­— and the monument he stands atop outside the Westmoreland Museum of American Art — must deploy elsewhere. The museum plans to expand.

A committee has been formed to oversee the move. Ben Gage, a West Virginia sculptor and expert in moving fine art and large-scale pieces, will begin the first steps in the move by examining the memorial on Friday and giving estimates.

“He's looking at it closely, taking measurements, doing what he has to do and giving us his version of what it will take to move the entire thing,” said attorney Lou DeRose, chairman of the recently formed Westmoreland Veterans Memorial Preservation Committee.

“Then what the committee has to decide — hopefully with a lot of public input — St. Clair Park? (Westmoreland) Courthouse Square? Is there another place?”

Museum officials plan to expand from the building's east wing, said Barbara Jones, museum curator and a veterans committee member.

“It has to be moved off the property so we can transform that area into a green space,” she said.

The monument went up in 1925, flanked by four cannons, near the old Greensburg City Hall on North Main Street. Civil War and World War I veterans and others helped pay for the monument, which was dedicated on May 30, 1925, as the Westmoreland County Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

In 1949, city hall moved to its current spot on South Main Street and the museum took over the North Main Street property.

A decade later, workers moved the monument a few feet to its current site outside the museum, after a community fervor arose in opposition to plans to erect it in St. Clair Park, according to published reports.

The monument originally went up as a memorial to Union Civil War soldiers and sailors, but over time it has evolved into something else, Jones said.

“It's become a memorial to all the (American) soldiers who perished,” she said.

The names of American wars back to the Revolution are etched on the base, and Iraq and Afghanistan will be added.

No one took much care of the monument after city hall moved, DeRose said.

“The monument sort of weathered on its own,” he said.

Noting Gage's assessment will be important, DeRose said, “We have no idea what pollution, the birds have done to it in 80 years.”

There is some question about who owns it, though a legal argument can be made that Greensburg has proprietary interest, he said.

“Maybe it's better we don't know who owns it and we find a new home for it,” he added.

Other committee members are Matt Zamosky, Westmoreland County Veterans Affairs director; Barbara Ciampini, Greensburg city planner, Matt Junker, aide to county Commissioner Chairman Chuck Anderson; and residents Sam Wian and James Sims.

“It's part of our history, and we want to find a new home and make him more visible to everyone,” Ciampini said.

Committee members have an estimate of $5,000-$10,000 to restore the soldier.

Eventually, committee members expect to use a nonprofit group to help collect donations to pay for the move and any other costs.

Monuments are being preserved at Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam, “and this piece is right in our backyard,” said Sims, a Civil War re-enactor from West Newton who retired from the Army.

Many Westmoreland County residents cherish the memorial, Ciampini said.

“I'm amazed by how many people care about it,” she said.

“It was really meant as a monument,” Jones said.

“You look up and are inspired by it.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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