Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Confederates Remembered in Montana

Confederate monument honors the nostalgic past
July 21, 2012

For those who believe Montana was far removed from the Civil War, take a stroll through Helena's Hill Park and admire the granite fountain prominently standing there.

The Confederate Memorial Fountain was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1916. As you read the inscription, "A Longing Tribute to Our Confederate Soldiers," realize that you are in the presence of the only Confederate monument in Montana and the Northwest and one of the few such tributes to the Confederacy in the northern United States.

Hill Park, once known as Great Northern Park, is south of the distinctive Civic Center between Neill Avenue and North Park Avenue. It's near the heart of the capital city on the western rim of historic Last Chance Gulch.

Confederate Veteran magazine covered the unveiling of this Confederate memorial:

"The 5th of September, 1916, was made memorable in the city of Helena, Mont., by the presentation of the Confederate memorial fountain as a gift from the Winnie Davis Chapter, U. D. C. (United Daughters of the Confederacy)," the magazine wrote. "It was in 1903 that this Chapter began its work for a Confederate memorial, and in this it was aided by other Chapters of the State. So on the evening of September 5, in the glow of the low Montana twilight, an interested throng gathered to witness the unveiling ceremonies."

Several aged Confederate veterans were present. Miss Gertrude C. Young gave the presentation speech, telling the history of the gift as the Confederate Daughters saw the need to beautify Hill Park. She explained the motive in planning such a gift, telling how the Confederate Daughters, desiring to make some presentation to their new residence after leaving the South, had chosen the fountain as a fitting memorial.

Young lauded the present-day American spirit, a spirit of union with no ill feeling between the old North and South, which caused such bitterness and sorrow years ago.

City Attorney Edward Horsky, in place of Mayor Purcell, accepted the donation for the city. After the speeches, Mrs. Will Aiken pulled the cord to loosen the flag that covered the monument, while Mrs. F. F. Read turned the water into the bowl. These three women were the only charter members of the Winnie Davis Chapter then in Helena.

Prominent Helena architect George H. Carsley, the monument's designer, was inspired by a memorial fountain erected in Washington, D.C., in the memory of two heroes of the Titanic disaster. Erected at a cost of $2,000, the Confederate memorial used native Montana granite.

A Confederate Veteran described the fountain:

"The base upon which the fountain is placed is rectangular in form, bordered by heavy granite copings and approaches being on opposite sides, corresponding to the east-and-west axis of the park."

The fountain has two basins with bubbling drinking fountains at its north and south sides.

"Rising out of the upper basin is an octagonal shaft, upon opposite sides of which are two inscriptions in cut letters. ... Upon one side: 'A Longing Tribute to Our Confederate Soldiers.' Upon the other ... 'By the Daughters of the Confederacy in Montana, A. D. 1916.' "

Four bronze spouts pour water from this pedestal into the upper basin.

"In addition, there are four low jets bubbling through the surface of water in the upper basin, which, together with two overflow spouts from the drinking fountain and the water spilling from the upper into the lower basin, forms pleasing lines and graceful patterns.

"The whole is surmounted by a bronze lantern, giving to the shaft something of the proportions of a lighthouse, the distance from platform to top of the light being about nine feet."

The Montana Confederate Memorial was dedicated in 1916 at a time when race relations in the country were at the nadir with segregation and lynchings reaching their peak. The memorial beautified Hill Park, but ironically it also made a strong statement about the past — that even this far north the Confederacy should be honored nostalgically.