Thursday, March 29, 2012
It is spring cleaning time at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Some of the park’s more than 1,000 monuments, tablets and markers have been vandalized, a few have been lost and nearly all have suffered from neglect.
That is why as efforts to clear the underbrush and restore the park’s landscape to how it appeared when established in 1890, crews from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center are conducting conservation work on eight of its largest monuments.
“This is their third visit,” said Jim Szyjkowski, the park’s director of maintenance. “We have 20 big monuments. This visit will take care of the 19th one.”
Next year, the HPTC crew is to work on the last of the park’s major assets, the New York Peace Monument at Point Park. That monument situated on Lookout Mountain is visible from the valley below and the cost to restore it is estimated at about $500,000.
All the work is in part to counter decades of deferred maintenance and ready the park for the sesquicentennial, in 2013, of the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
“This is long overdue,” Szyjkowski said. “Some of these things probably haven’t seen this level of preservation since they were erected.
“We have the original plans, we want to follow through with the design made when the park was first laid out.”
A National Park Service crew made up of masons, medal conservators and exhibit specialists is cleaning all stone surfaces, repointing joints, cleaning and waxing all metal statues and plaques, and inspecting eight of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park’s monuments.
Work was completed last week on the 72-foot tall granite Iowa Monument that is located at the foot of Missionary Ridge in Rossville. Other projects along Missionary Ridge will include the Minnesota Monument at the Delong Reservation, the Iowa Monument at the Sherman Reservation and the Ohio Monument at the Ohio Reservation.
The schedule for working on four monuments on the Chickamauga Battlefield is:
Florida Monument, March 13-May 25
Wilder’s Brigade Monument (Wilder Tower), March 23-April 16
Georgia Monument, April 24-June 7
Kentucky Monument, May 7-25
The local park’s existence is due to a report of the House Military Affairs Committee. That report, the first to recommend establishing a complete national military park, was presented to a Congress filled with veterans of the Civil War.
In part, it reads:
“A field as renowned as this for the stubbornness and brilliancy of its fighting, not only in our own war, but when compared with all modern wars, has an importance to the nation as an object lesson of what is possible in American fighting, and the natio.”
The original report also noted that “all the armies and nearly every State of the North and South had troops on one or both fields, thus confirming the national character of the project. Union troops from 18 States were engaged there; troops were present from every State of the Confederacy; and three States, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, contributed large numbers to both armies.”
A Congressional act establishing the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park was signed into law on Aug. 18, 1890, by President Benjamin Harrison, making it the first of the nation’s military parks.
Veterans of the fighting determined where markers would show critical locations on the battlefield.
Today, no combatants remain to tell the story of what happened that autumn of 1863 in the fields and woods of Northwest Georgia and Southeastern Tennessee. Only monuments and metal tablets mark their presence.
And it is to both commemorate their deeds and continue the park’s mission that today’s perservation efforts are under way.
Szyjkowski said theft and vandalism have taken a toll, but most of the restoration involves countering the effects of age and weather. Crews are cleaning, treating and sealing bronze plaques. Stonework is being washed, sand blasted where necessary, and having mortar repointed.
The three-year total to repair and clean monuments is slightly more than $1 million, of which $310,000 is federal stimulus money.
After the concentrated efforts to restore the grounds and monuments the 150th anniversary of the battle, the focus will shift from renovation to regular housekeeping chores.
“You do big preservation and repair, follow with touch-ups and then begin cyclical maintenance,” Szyjkowski said. “I can’t tell you exactly how it will look 100 years from now, but we will continue projects to maintain it.”