Citizens seek to restore historic memorial in Medina

Provided photos: A "cannon" at State Street Park is actually British Heavy Field Gun. It is in need of rehabilitation.

Posted 21 May 2017 at 9:49 pm

Rare British artillery piece in need of rehabilitation

Press Release, Village of Medina Waterfront Development Committee

MEDINA – The day was October 3, 1935. About 300 persons gathered in what was then known as City Park to remember friends and family who served in the Great War. A cold rain fell on the crowd that day as an airplane dropped roses on the ceremony from above.

A monument had been erected through the efforts of local veterans and businessmen – a British artillery piece with a distinguished history of service on the Western Front had been procured and was prominently placed at the corner of the park.

A bronze tablet at the site bears the inscription: Erected by the James P. Clark Post of the American Legion in memory of those who lost their lives in the World War.

Every Memorial Day for over 80 years, citizens and veterans gather by the dozens at the World War I Memorial in State Street Park to remember in solemn ceremony.

Today, 80 years later, the centerpiece of this memorial is in dire need of rehabilitation and a local committee is spearheading that project.

Recently, the Village Board authorized the Village of Medina Waterfront Development Committee. The group has been meeting regularly to assess community assets along Medina’s considerable waterfront, and establish a comprehensive plan for development along the entire length within the village. The committee is chaired by Kathy Blackburn and draws its members from the village Planning Board, local businesses and organizations.

State Street Park, along with the World War I memorial, is included in that waterfront area.

“This site is one of the most hallowed, historic and important sites in our community,” said Chris Busch, member of the committee.

According to local archives, the “cannon” is a British Heavy Field Gun known as a B.L. 60 Pounder, manufactured in 1916 by Elswick Ordnance Company, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

It weighs 6 tons, is a 5 inch/127mm caliber, 21 feet in length and 6 feet in width.

The gun was originally issued to battery in France, April 1917 and fired 2,871 rounds during its first tour. It was returned to England in 1917 for repairs and reissued to battery in France, September 1918, firing an additional 1,471 rounds.

The cannon is deteriorating at State Street Park.

“The United States procured a number of these batteries from Great Britain for use with American troops when the we entered the war,” said Busch. “This gun is likely part of those ceded to the U.S. and came back with the troops as war materiel.”

There are ten known possible surviving examples: five in museums, two in the U.S., and five parks or cemeteries in the U.S., including the memorial in Medina.

“There may be others, but we’re not aware of them. This piece is reasonably rare,” said Busch.

Through the years it has come to be know by all as “the cannon in State Street Park.” It has been the backdrop of thousands of photographs and memories. More importantly, it is a place of solemn remembrance.

During a review of waterfront assets by the committee, the question of the “cannon” came up. There had been reports that is was deteriorating despite having had some repairs made nearly two decades ago.

The committee decided that expert assessment was needed. After some research, the committee reached out to Dave Seedenberg of Seed Artillery Reproduction and Restoration in Altoona, PA.

Seedenberg is an expert in the field of restoring and reproducing functioning historic artillery pieces and has been practicing his craft for over eighteen years. His work is used in reenactments as well as at historic sites such as Fort Pulaski, GA. Seed Artillery has gained a national reputation as the “go to place for those who expect perfection.”

“In this day and age, people don’t realize how significant these war memorials are,” said Seedenberg. “The BL-60 was a very important piece to the Allies and we owe it to future generations to preserve it. We cannot afford to forget our history.”

Seedenberg traveled to Medina in February with two military historians. They were keenly interested in what they found.

“It was a great pleasure to have visited this monument- this cannon is rare in our country.” Seedenberg said. “Once I saw it, I was very concerned with the corrosion and structural damage we found. This is a very heavy artillery piece and corrosion has taken its toll. There are holes in some of the structural members.”

The rehabilitation process will require the gun to be transported to Altoona and stripped down. Parts will be repaired and actually re-manufactured if necessary. The gun will be primed and painted with epoxy primer and finished to match the original WWI paint scheme. The goal is to restore the piece to withstand exposure for another one hundred years or more. The entire process will take five to six months.

The gun will then be transported back to Medina and returned to the site where improvements will be made to the concrete base and landscape. New flagpoles and an interpretive sign will be added with the possible addition of benches.

Total cost for restoration and site improvements: $40,000.

Is it worth the cost? The committee, the Mayor and the Village Board think so.

This rendering shows how the memorial site could look with about $40,000 in improvements.

“This historic and rare cannon that has been used to memorialize those who served our community and nation over the last 80 years. Its preservation will safeguard the solemn ceremony at future Memorial Day observances for generations,” said Mayor Sidari. “I urge everyone to support the Medina Waterfront Development Committee in their effort to restore the cannon at State Street Park.”

Waterfront Development Committee Chairwoman Kathy Blackburn echoed those sentiments.

“This cannon has been in the park for as long as I can remember. It’s part of Medina’s past and future,” said Blackburn.

“We owe it to future generations to keep history alive; to be able to take our children and their children to see this piece of history and learn its lessons. If we don’t care for the artifacts of our history, they will turn to dust and our heritage along with it.”

“The piece is worthy of preservation for many reasons,” said Chris Busch, Planning Board Chair and Waterfront Committee member. “It is a rare and significant piece of military history. It is of interest to tourists, history enthusiasts, military buffs and is a well-known local landmark.”

According to Busch, every Memorial Day observance has been held at this site since the memorial was erected over 80 years ago. He calls it,”a hallowed part of the fabric of our community.” As part of the elaborate annual observance, the names of those who served and passed away that year are read aloud to a silent gathering of citizens.

“We neglect our history at our own peril,” said Busch “Life becomes easy. We forget the price that has been paid by generations before us on our behalf. Memorials like this one were erected to allow generations past to speak to us of the sacrifices that have secured our future.”

Blackburn said the project will not commence until enough funds have been raised to complete it . The committee has been quietly reaching out to community members to gauge support and have found enthusiasm for the project.

“We have several incredibly generous commitments for donations from community members and organizations at this point,” Blackburn said. “Now we’re appealing to the public at large. As soon as sufficient funds have been raised, the committee will begin the restoration.”

A little over one year away will mark a significant date for the memorial: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when the guns fell silent.

“The one-hundredth anniversary of the World War I is coming up on November 11, 2018,” said Blackburn. “We are hoping that we can have the restoration completely finished in time for Memorial Day 2018 and for Veteran’s Day 2018.”

The Orleans Renaissance Group, Inc. is facilitating collection of donations for the committee’s efforts. Donations can be mailed to: Orleans Renaissance Group, PO Box 543, Medina, NY 14103 with the notation “Memorial Restoration Project”.

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