BARRE — This city’s homecoming celebration for the young men who served in the armed forces during World War I featured the dedication of a Victory Arch.
That was 100 years ago today.
On July 4, 1919, about 16,000 people thronged the streets of the Granite City to commemorate the return of the soldiers and sailors. The parade and a flyover of a biplane were other notable events of that celebration, as well as a baseball game in which Barre beat Montpelier by a score of 14-7.
The day-long observance began at 6:30 a.m. with the tolling of the church bells and, by 8 a.m., the streets began filling with people from Washington and Orange counties. The Barre Daily Times noted, “it was almost impossible to make progress on the sidewalks of the streets while the City Park was a mass of huddled humanity.”
A parade commenced at 10:30 a.m., led by Chief Marshall Chauncey Willey and George N. Tilden, assistant marshall.
It was described as a “grand” parade.
“There were five divisions in the procession, the first containing a detachment of mounted troops from Norwich University, veterans of the Civil War riding in automobiles, a large delegation of veterans of the Spanish American War, and marching with sturdy stride, French and Canadian Soldiers, the Barre City Band, disabled soldiers and returned nurses, soldiers and sailors of the World War,” the newspaper noted.
In all, more than 350 servicemen marched in the procession.
The event honored the efforts of more than 800 soldiers and sailors from Washington and Orange counties, and was a declared a joyous occasion despite a rough landing by the airplane at the trotting park.
All of Barre was proud of the Victory Arch that was a traditional symbol built to honor the brave soldiers who sacrificed so much for their country.
The arch had been erected at the intersection of North Main, Elm and Washington streets. Its existence had everything to do with the skilled sculptors who had come to Barre to work in the stone sheds. The first step in making a statue was to sculpt the figure in clay and plaster to prepare a model to guide the work of the stonecutters. (Barre sculptors had all the necessary skills to prepare the massive tribute.)
The Barre arch was constructed of ornate plaster and stood 40 feet tall, 38 feet wide, 15 feet deep and contained a 15-foot passageway through which the soldiers and sailors marched.
Noted the Barre Daily Times: “the structure is of wooden frame with stucco finish — the white coating making a striking appearance as it gleamed in the sunlight and silhouetted against the sky under the rays of powerful searchlights at night. On the outer walls are panels bearing the names of the servicemen of Barre (city and town) in the great war, there being 800 such names inscribed, of which 45 bore a gold star indicating the supreme sacrifice.”
As magnificent as this tribute was, it was never intended to be anything more than temporary, the sculpted plaster being vulnerable to weather.
Several Barre craftsmen and artists contributed their time and skills to the endeavor. The newspaper described “the most striking feature of the structure,” fashioned by Carlo Abate in his studio.
The symbol of victory surmounts the center of the top, this symbol being four white horses drawing a chariot containing a female figure in whose upraised right hand is the laurel wreath of victory and in whose left hand is the sword pointing to the earth and denoting the end of the war. This symbol carries out the old Roman idea of victory. On either side of this symbol is an eagle with outstretched wings, typifying liberty, while on the corner just back of the victory symbol are representations of ancient armor and weapons.
Abate, who, at that time, had a studio on North Main Street, was affiliated with Barre’s anarchist movement. Abate was a political idealist, as well as an artist. It was considered ironic that he would devote his artistic skills to the project, since many Italian anarchists had been opposed to the war. Some even fled to Mexico to avoid service in the conflict in the belief that the workers should resist a war of capitalist imperialism.
Abate was a beloved member of Barre’s Italian community. The Italian American Stonecutter’s Monument erected in 1985 on Barre’s North Main Street is dedicated to him. He was a founding member of the Barre Evening Drawing School, which he had hoped would enable the young men in town to find work without the hazards of breathing granite dust.
Charles Pamperl, another founding member of the Drawing School and an ardent Barre socialist, had assisted Abate in preparing sculptures for the arch. Angelo Calderera also contributed his artistry to the project.The arch was rife with allegorical symbolism which was explained in detail in the Barre Daily Times:
“On the beautiful fluted columns in front of the arch are figures, on the left Humanity calling upon Power for deliverance from danger, and on the right Power responding and striking down the oppressor, Autocracy. On the back side of the arch, surmounting the pillars, are figures representing Agriculture and Commerce, for which, in part, Americans fought the war.
“The seals of America’s four victorious allies were emblazoned on the four columns and the keystone seal at the top was that of the United States. Bas reliefs at the base honored artillery, infantry, cavalry, and navy.”
In bold lettering above the passageway was the inscription: “To Commemorate the Home/Coming of the Boys Who/Fought for Democracy/A.D. 1919” Employing a practice used before and after, “the names of the men in war are inscribed in dark letters, easily discernible from some distance, the names occupying panels on all sides of the structure. The placing of the names was done by many draftsmen from the granite plants of the city, and the work is well executed,” the newspaper noted.
The arch was constructed over a period of several days. A local contractor erected the framework over which the plaster sculptures were attached. Abate spent several days working on the installation.
The Barre Daily Times reported: “A great many workmen stop each day to watch the progress of the sculptor who so cleverly makes beautiful figures out of a few boards and plaster. If the remainder of the arch is as well constructed as those of Mr. Abate’s figures, and is as artistic in comparison, people from surrounding towns will be well repaid if they make a trip to Barre just to see the arch.”
On June 24, the newspaper reminded Barre veterans of the great war, that their names must be submitted to the memorial arch committee by the 28th to ensure inclusion in the roll of honor. The same issue of the Barre Daily Times reported that site work was being done to prepare for the installation of the arch sculptures and bas reliefs. N. Pellagi, a granite manufacturer from Northfield, was on hand to lend his expertise as Northfield had erected an arch for their welcome home celebration in May.
The parade route for Barre’s celebration was also announced with plans to launch the procession from Currier Park. The route would then follow Eastern Avenue, Summer Street, Maple Avenue, and North and South Main Streets. The Homecoming Committee announced a series of other events for the celebration: a ladder-climbing contest, a motorcycle race, a bicycle race, pony race, tug-of-war, sack race, two dashes, ladies race, Highland fling, and sword dance.
The homecoming address was delivered by J. Ward Carver, a Barre attorney with a statewide reputation. As the parade halted at the entrance to the victory arch, Carver remarked on the significance of the “triumphal arch,” noting its use since the time of the Romans to honor a military victory.
“Inspired by the men who in days of old built the arch of Titus and Constantine, loyal American citizens, some of whose ancestors were the originators of the arch, have joined together to build the arch through which you are about to march in triumph,” he was reported as saying.
He went on: “The community today swells with pride in the fact that this beautiful arch, full of symbolism, a thing of artistic worth and excellence is a product of it citizens. Thrown up in a very short time from raw material into a thing of real beauty, a thing of honor, a structure which stands as an appropriate tribute of our people to you, to whom we would show highest honor as victors fresh from the service and the scenes of war.”
With the conclusion of Carver’s speech, the line of march proceeded, and the honored veterans passed through the city’s tribute to their valor. “As they passed the vaulted arch, four young ladies showered the men with confetti and Golden Glow blossoms; and the crowd gave vociferous acclaim straight from the heart.”
With the conclusion of the daylong celebration the arch remained for several months.
The newspaper eventually complained that it was “one of the greatest traffic hazards ever placed on the streets of the city.”
Not constructed to endure the harsh climate of central Vermont, the arch was auctioned off, with a local merchant buying the structure for $110. Dave Ferrand won the auction and may have displayed the plaster sculptures in his Main Street pool hall.
The Barre Daily Times paid homage to Carlo Abate weeks after the arch was dismantled.
In the Boston Globe, it was reported that immediately after its dedication on July 4, 1919, more than 25,000 viewed the artwork and “many expressions as to its beauty are being made.”
Paul Heller is a writer and historian from Barre.