Saturday, November 26, 2011

Florida Monument Needs Repair

By ANGEL McCURDY/Florida Freedom Newspapers

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The 140-year-old white marble monument that sits in front of the Walton County Courthouse attracts little attention.

The memorial dedicated to the confederate dead from the Civil War has been there since 1927, yet it is missing pieces and goes mostly unnoticed by passers-by.

The monument has been designated by historians as the first one erected in Florida to pay tribute to confederates killed in the war. However, many details about the memorial come from folk tales rather than documentation.

“For me, (the monument) is just there. It’s not anything that catches people’s attention,” said Diane Merkel, president of the Walton County Heritage Museum. “I’m sure there are records somewhere, but no one has dug that deep yet.”

The monument was sculpted shortly after the Civil War. A group then called Ladies’ Memorial Association raised $250 to have it erected.

“I would guess in this area, in the South in general, it was a lot of money,” Merkel said. “Those people had been through a terrible time.”

A New Orleans sculptor named A. Barret is credited with the work, according to “Walton Wanderings: A Swing and a Miss at History” written by James E. Moore in 1996.

The monument stands 12 feet high and has a base of 28 inches.

The top, which once featured a hand pointing skyward, disappeared about six years ago, presumably taken by vandals.

“There’s really little maintenance that’s done with it. It’s just a part of our community,” said Dede Hinote, the county’s administrative services coordinator.

Hinote said officials have been considering ways to replace the missing hand for the last two years.

“Funding hasn’t been available the past few years and the person who was trying to get this going retired, but we’re still looking into it,” Hinote said.

Inscribed on the monument is the date it was made — 1871 — and “To the Memory of the Confederate Dead of Walton Co. Florida.”

The sides are inscribed with the names of two captains, four lieutenants and 85 enlisted men from the 1st, 6th and 7th Florida volunteers — 91 names in all.

“It was a good amount of people (killed),” Merkel said. Based on a census from 1860, the population of Walton County was 3,037 — 2,584 white men and women and 441 slaves.

The Ladies’ Memorial Association originally decided to place the monument at Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church, but others disagreed and the group placed the statue in the front lawn of the early court-house in Eucheeanna.

At some point, John Morrison, a state delegate, his brother Murdoch Morrison and some of their employees loaded the monument onto a wagon and brought it to Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church.

According to Moore’s book, the brothers threatened violence against anyone who tried to stop them.

The president of the women’s group, Jeannett J. McCullom — McKinnon on the statue — filed a complaint with the First Judicial Court. The case was dismissed.

McCullom appealed to the Supreme Court of Florida. In January 1874 the court found for McCullom and the monument was moved back to the Eucheeanna courthouse.

In September 1927, the statue was moved a final time to its present location in DeFuniak Springs when the city became the county seat.

The monument with a confederate flag flying beside it has stirred up little debate over the years. Merkel credited it to being “heritage, not hatred.”

Hinote agreed that few problems have arisen in about statue or the flag.

“It’s important to this area because it’s a part of our history,” Hinote said. “It’s all pretty basic. There’s been no controversy to speak of.”

While nothing has stirred about removing the historic marker, little is known about the monument.

“Most of our history is verbal, which makes it really hard to get back to the primary sources information,” said Merkel, who has been trying to gather information. “I want to use primary sources if at all possible, but there are not a whole lot of things around.”

The now–defunct Florida Board of Parks and Historical Monuments declared the memorial a historic marker in 1967.

Since then, few photos have been shot.

“I wish we had enough photographs of it to pinpoint the years. (The hand has) been gone for a long time,” Merkel said. “I wish there were more available. Maybe someone will be inspired to start digging.”