“The Genius of Liberty,” atop a granite pedestal overlooking Penn Square, gazes to the north with a drawn sword in her right hand and a shield in her left. She is crowned with five stars that are evenly spaced out around a twisted-rope crown, and stands 43 feet high.
She has maintained her silent watch over Penn Square, protected by four other statues representing branches of United States military service, for 147 years.
July 4 this year marks the 147th anniversary of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument’s dedication ceremony; therefore, we thought this would be the perfect time to dig up some history from the LNP|LancasterOnline archives about the monument.
About the monument
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument was commissioned in 1872, and later dedicated on July 4, 1874, honoring the fallen Lancastrians who fought during the Civil War. Inscribed on the monument are the words “Erected by the people of Lancaster County, to the memory of their fellow citizens who fell in defence of the union, in the War of the Rebellion. 1861 – 1865.”
The four statues surrounding "The Genius of Liberty," each six feet tall, represent the four branches of the armed services: army (infantry), navy, cavalry and artillery. Legend holds that “The Genius of Liberty” is facing north because she has turned her back toward the defeated confederacy.
Eight battle names are inscribed around the monument, including Gettysburg, Malvern Hill, Vicksburg, Antietam, Chickamauga, Chaplin Hills, Wilderness and Petersburg.
At the monument’s dedication, veterans joined the crowd of at least a couple thousand people, and girls from the Mount Joy Soldiers Orphan Home sang the solemn song, “My Father’s Grave,” in honor of the occasion.
In Anna Lyle’s 1892 book, “Brief History of Lancaster County,” Lyle depicts the monument’s ceremony by saying, “In compliance with the demand of public sentiment [the monument] was placed in central square, in the city. This beautiful granite structure – surrounded with four emblematic statues and capped with a figure of the Goddess [Genius] of Liberty – was unveiled with imposing ceremonies in the presence of a great multitude, on the 4th of July, 1874.”
On the monument's 100th birthday in 1974, young songsters performed several pieces mirroring the performance of the Mount Joy Veteran’s Orphan School to celebrate.
Over the years, plaques have been added to the base of the monument honoring the fallen from other wars as well. On Veterans Day in 1999, two plaques were added to honor those who served during World War II and the Korean War. These plaques act as “a reminder of the painful costs of war.”
There are also plaques that honor those who served in World War I, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and a plaque that specifically honors African Americans who have served.
The monument's origins
The monument was designed and carved by Lewis Haldy, a Lancaster Civil War veteran and local stonecutter. The monument is of gothic architectural style and the pillar and pedestal are made of fine-grained Rhode Island granite. Batterson, Canfield & Company of Hartford, reportedly the largest supplier of Civil War monuments in the U.S., manufactured the monument, and the construction of the monument cost $26,000.
The monument's concept originated in 1867 from The Patriot Daughters of Lancaster, a ladies’ organization led by Rosina Hubley that supported soldiers. Under Hubley’s leadership, the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster oversaw fundraising efforts. In December of 1867, they hosted a fundraiser in Fulton Hall, now Fulton Opera House, raising around $3,500.
Additionally, after a long fight by the monumental association, they were able to utilize the money from fines collected from members of the militia for misdemeanors to construct the monument.
After some initial debate as to where the monument should be located, it found its initial home where the original Lancaster County Courthouse stood from 1739-1859, which briefly served as the capital of the country when the Continental Congress held a one-day session on Sept. 27, 1777, during the American Revolution.
The monument through the years
In the 1950s, "The Genius of Liberty" and the four men defending her faced the threat of being relocated so as to diminish traffic congestion in Penn Square. Prof. Frederic S. Klein, retiree from the faculty of Franklin & Marshall College, along with the monumental association, fought a yearlong battle in 1970 to save the monument from being moved out of the square.
Klein sent out volunteers with petitions, gathering 10,000 signatures representing the community’s desire for the monument to remain in Penn Square. The city council sought a compromise, resulting in the base of the monument being cut from 35 square feet to 17 square feet in order to improve traffic by moving the servicemen statues closer to the victorious lady.
Through this alteration, iron railings were added, along with a 12-inch-high curb and an inclining wall of granite to form a compact base. The grass plot was removed along with the lanterns that were on each corner− instead, light was integrated into the granite base.
Until this alteration, the monument had remained practically unchanged.
In 1973, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was placed on the National Register of Historical Places, being designated as a U.S. Shrine on May 11, 1973. Because of the designation, federal money can no longer be used to destroy the monument. Federal law protects structures or sites that are designated as U.S. Shrines from being dismantled or moved using federal funds; therefore, funds would need to be found elsewhere.
“The monument certainly deserves the designation. It truly shows the historical significance of the Lancaster community,” Klein said in 1973 after obtaining the monuments designation as a U.S. shrine.
Many small towns, villages and cities across the nation have also built similar soldiers and sailors monuments memorializing the Civil War. Similar major monuments can be found in Allentown, Easton and Towanda, for example.
From John F. Kennedy campaigning in the square to Independence Day celebrations to car crashes, the monument, as city center, has experienced many noteworthy events.
On Nov. 12, 1978, Donna J. Yale died when her car crashed into the base of the monument and exploded on impact. The impact destroyed the sailor figure which broke into six pieces. The sailor took a year to repair at a cost of over $25,000.
The next time the monument was damaged was when Richard Lugo’s truck crashed into the monument March 24, 1985, cracking several concrete slabs. This damage was not repaired until a year later and cost about $20,000.
See more photos of Penn Square here.