Photo by Lindsey Yeo
As we head into the Memorial Day weekend and talk generally leans towards summer activities and BBQs… we at Mindfield and the G.A.R. building will stop and remember not only the men who fought during the Civil War but also all the men and women who have similarly sacrificed so much for the United States in the years since.
The photo below was sent to us by a friend of ours who found it in the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library. It dates from 1934 and in the waning years of the surviving veterans meeting at the “castle”. The article states there were just 28 veterans left in the Detroit Posts. Their time spent at the G.A.R. would wind down in the years soon after this picture was taken and in time the building would revert back to the city for various uses over the next 4 decades.
We’re all very proud to be a part of this building’s renovation…it’s been an exciting journey to bring this one back to life. More importantly though is the history it holds and the memories of the men it was built to honor.
Please take a moment this weekend and join us in reflection for the true meaning of the holiday.
Somehow, after more than 100 years and 30 years worth of break-ins, the stairway at Detroit’s G.A.R. building remained almost entirely intact. Our teams may have replaced 12 spindles. Aside from that, the work done to them was about stripping the wood and refinishing the stain and protective coating.Before the common areas become too cluttered with “finishing touches” we thought we’d show off what is currently the highlight… the staircase.These photos will lead you from the lobby up to the third floor.Imagine the aged men with white hair steadying themselves as the climbed these steps and met with their fellow Civil War veterans.(Note: we do have a replacement “pineapple”for the lobby – it’s being stored a bit longer as we still have trades carrying gear past where it will live)
All photos by Lindsey Yeo
The second display case set up in the lobby currently holds items “found” in the Detroit’s G.A.R. building during the renovation. Our construction team was great at setting aside items they would come across as they dug holes or tore through walls. Over the 2 or 3 years they amassed a few dozen items from the building’s past. We’ve put most of them out just to the right of the elevator.It’s a varied collection of artifacts. Some were of the building itself, many were things the workers would have thrown away while the were building the castle and of course, a handful are items used by the veterans and their associates during the period this was a G.A.R. Hall.The liquor bottles were found in the rafters up in the attic. These appear to be from the period AFTER the “Boys in Blue” used the building. And how do we know this? Well, if you’ve been to Republic for a drink… you too would know the veterans whiskey of choice was “White Horse”.They left remnants of the case behind when they hand crafted their own cigar humidors.
Resourceful gentlemen that they were.
All photos by Lindsey Yeo
One of our earliest (and best) discoveries at the G.A.R. building came during the initial clean-up phase. On the second floor, buried under 30 years of dirt, was a small riser where someone could stand and speak to a larger crowd of people. Our work crews were tearing it apart when they uncovered a marble plaque that once hung above the stage on the wall. At some point, someone had the “smarts” to take it from the wall and hide it beneath the stage to protect it. It rested there for decades until our team pulled it back out.
As written here previously, it honored six veterans who were closely involved in getting the G.A.R. built at the turn of the last century. They were:
William C. Claxton William H. Fisher
Edgar A. Shook Richard W. Allen
Charles F. Brown Samuel B. Dixon
Please meet William C. Claxton. Past Commander of Fairbanks G.A.R. Post # 17.
We had the great fortune to have his great-great Grandson, Dan, in Republic last week for dinner. After a conversation with our server and a few emails we received this awesome photo of the first of the men listed on the plaque. William is a large reason Detroit has a castle.
William is pictured here with G.A.R. medals on his chest… and a crazy cool beard.
And the C. in his middle name… it stands for “Christmas”, of course.
Thanks Dan for bringing your ancestor back to the castle!!!
Thanks go out to “patriotblue1″ for catching us on the correct year which the veterans Grand Army of the Republic organization officially dissolved. We are admittedly “newbies” on Grand Army facts, having only come into the history with the purchase of the castle. Our apologies.
The last Michigan member of the G.A.R. passed away in 1951. The final member of the G.A.R.as a whole to pass, Albert Woolson, died in 1956.
Thanks for keeping us on our toes.
We spent almost 3 years negotiating the purchase of the G.A.R. building. The fun began in 2008 and wrapped up in 2011 when we finally signed the papers. One element, which was a concern for all of us, was that there were appropriate displays in the building to tell the story of the Union veterans group.
The Grand Army of the Republic was designed as an entity which would cease to be when the last veteran died. That happened in the 1940’s.Most of the “original” artifacts in this G.A.R. building disappeared in the early 80’s when the city mothballed the castle. We’re told people were just allowed to walk away with paintings, plaques and furniture as the doors were locked for a final time.
While our plans for displays of a larger scale lie down the road a bit, there are 2 obvious spots in the lobby which we have had some fun with in the time since we’ve moved in.The opening pictured here was once a doorway between the lobby and one of retail spaces on the first floor. Instead of simply boarding it up, we created a 2 sided display case with the Republic’s bar butting up on one side.
Pictured here are Civil war era pieces. People entering the building can take them in as they wait for the elevator, others sitting at the bar while they have a drink in honor of the veterans themselves.The canteen and the leather piece were actually carried into battle by our Great Grandfather, a member of the 17th Maine.
All photos by Lindsey Yeo