NAUGATUCK — After five years, the restoration of the World War I monument in downtown Naugatuck is complete.
The monument stands at the base of the stairs leading to Hillside Intermediate School. It was erected to commemorate those who fought in WW1, and is inscribed with the names of the 30 Naugatuck citizens who died during the war.
A rededication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the monument.
Ron Fischer, chairman of the WW1 monument fund and an officer at both the Grange and American Legion Post 17, spearheaded the restoration process.
Fischer explained the idea to restore the monument came up during a meeting at the Grange over five years ago.
Fischer said that there had been a lot of damage to the monument over the years.
When the monument was constructed, the floral piece on the top was gilded. However, over the years, it had been painted over. In the 1960s, when the borough tried to replace the flag pole, they cracked the base of the monument. The drainage system under the monument was also broken, which caused it to overflow and stain the monument.
Not all of the damage was caused by nature or simple error, however.
“The pedestal has insets of river rock and those were all coming apart. It was deteriorating. Plus it looks like somebody was taking those stones and throwing them against the monument and the monument had been damaged,” Fischer said.
The biggest problem that Fischer currently sees is all the skateboarders.
“They have a skateboard park, but they would rather use the monument and Hillside School. They actually chipped and discolored the pedestal where they were skateboarding,” Fischer said.
When it heard about all of the damage the monument had sustained, the Grange thought restoration was a good idea and donated $1,000.
Fischer brought the idea to the American Legion, who also donated $1,000 to the cause.
When he had an estimate done on the renovation of the memorial, Fischer found out that it would cost approximately $40,000 to complete.
When he found out how much it would cost, Fischer was concerned that he had started a project that might never be fully funded.
“I said ‘I don’t know if I took on too much,’ but I thought I would give it a try,” Fischer said.
The donations started rolling in, however. In addition to the $2,000 he had already raised, Fischer received $1,000 from the Naugatuck Fire Department, $2,500 from Naugatuck Savings Bank, and the town gave $25,000 towards the restorations. Since it had already donated the first $1,000, the Grange promised to donate the last $1,000 as well.
It wasn’t just large donations that funded the renovations, though. Fischer explained that there were numerous fundraisers. Donations came in from Tennessee, Rhode Island, Illinois, and even Canada, all from individuals who had family listed on that monument.
When the project was fully funded, the Hamden-based ConservArt took on the restoration process. They replaced all of the stones along the base, repaired the monument, cleaned the stains, and stripped and waxed the floral piece on the top.
“They did it all organically. They didn’t use any chemicals,” Fischer said.
The work began last year, but was delayed by Tropical Storm Irene and the fall snow storm.
Now that the restoration is complete, Fischer will turn the remaining funds over to the borough for the upkeep and preservation of the monument.
“You figure, World War I, there’s nobody left to defend it,” Fischer said. “There’s nobody left to see that the monument is upkept. So we take it upon ourselves to do that. It’s the least we can do.”
The monument was originally erected in 1921 and was designed by Evelyn Beatrice Longman. Longman was the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design and is known for designing the Great Bronze Memorial at the Naval Academy and The Spirit of Victory, a Spanish-American War memorial, in Hartford.
Fischer is also trying to get the monument declared a historic landmark.