Repairs slated for county’s Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument

Some people know him as Billy Yank, the 17-foot tall soldier who, with cap raised, stands on an exploded shell atop the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in downtown Hamilton. The statue, officially named “Victory: The Jewel of the Soul,” will soon get a half-million dollar face lift.

The deadline for design firms to submit a statement of qualifications was Friday and once the commissioners pick a firm they can go out and get a firm price on “critical repairs” that are needed on the centerpiece of downtown. The working estimate is $500,000.

Randy Quisenberry, asset and purchasing director for the county, said the 100-foot tall, 40-foot square monument is in pretty good shape for being 109 years old, but the repairs must be made soon. Crumbling tiles on the second-floor ceiling are evidence the historic artifacts inside could be in peril.

“It’s the flat roof that’s holding the columns that is in very bad condition. It’s copper and rubber and the copper is starting to deteriorate and allowing water to come in and damage the inside of the building,” Quisenberry said. “Most of the work is going to be to replace the roof, clean the dome, clean the statue, put in all new LED lighting, shore up the windows and tuck point.”

The Hamilton Community Foundation in December pledged $250,000 for the repairs, but the offer is only on the table for a year. In March, Butler County commissioners earmarked $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the repairs.

Commissioner Don Dixon said they will find the remainder somehow.

“We will make the commitment for the other $100,000,” Dixon said. “We have made the commitment for the other $100,000, it’s just this is how we’re going to fund it.”

Many capital projects have been on the back burner since the nation’s Great Recession. Administrator Charlie Young said they are looking for other state and federal grants to pick up the rest of the tab. But the repair bill isn’t the only area where they need help with the monument.

Don Schollenbarger has been curator at the monument for 16 years, caring for the myriad of uniforms, artifacts of wars like cannons and bayonets, documents, books and other memorabilia dating back to the Civil War.

He has such a wealth of knowledge, the county is creating a documentary featuring Schollenbarger giving a tour of the monument.

“One of the purposes for the video is so we can share Don’s knowledge and experience as the curator of this monument and we’ll have a video on display,” Quisenberry said. “It will be on a loop and when people enter they’ll be able to watch a mini documentary on the monument and will have a lot more specific information as they go through.”

Tidbits like the fact a little cannon wasn’t used as a weapon, but instead was an implement to send signals to soldiers. The video also explains the origin of the monument’s stained glass windows.

“One of the unique items is the stained glass windows upstairs, which are to honor the women that served in the Civil War,” the curator said. “It was a very unusual thing for the Civil War veterans to do.”

With Schollenbarger’s departure the county needs someone to man the museum when it is open on Friday and Saturdays. Young said they have approached the veterans board to see if they would be willing to get involved with both manning and maintaining the monument.

“I asked them if they had an interest or were able to find someone to replace Don as the curator for that facility,” Young said. “Certainly we have an interest in volunteers to help maintain the exterior of the building as well as the interior, we asked if there was a volunteer organization that would like to step up.”

Schollenbarger’s last day is June 27, when asked what his favorite part of the monument is, he simply said “the whole place.”

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