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East Rock Park: Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and The Angel of Peace

Rich in history, innovation, and artistry, New Haven is bursting with historical landmarks for visitors and locals to explore. One site visitors can mark off their must-visit list this summer is New Haven’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

Located on the 366-foot summit of East Rock – we promise we won’t make you hike up the whole thing…well, unless you want to -, The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is a 19th-century war memorial dedicated to honoring New Haven residents who gave their lives in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. 

Interest in erecting a city war memorial began as early as 1878 when the New Haven-based Admiral Hull Foote Post of the Grand Army of the Republic began lobbying citizens for the monument. While the actual completion of the memorial took too many years, a chosen development spot on New Haven Green was dedicated just a year later. 

Throughout its construction, the memorial ran into many roadblocks, including receiving objections about the number of GAR members in attendance at an 1882 town meeting dedicated to assigning a committee and funds to the project. Construction was further delayed when 1884, the monument’s site was moved to East Rock after the city council decided to retain the defunct Connecticut State House. 

Amid these delays, the monument committee advertised a memorial design competition. Over 15 designs were submitted, including one by New York City-based Moffit & Doyle, who, in the end, were selected to design the monument. The committee also solicited designs from well-known sculptors such as George Keller and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who had designed several famous Civil War memorials but declined to submit proposals for the city’s project. 

Moffit & Doyle’s neoclassical design was selected two years after the original solicitation and features an observatory, bronze sculpture, and a red granite shaft. Work on the monument began in 1886 by New Haven firm Smith & Sperry, with the bronze casting completed by the Ames Manufacturing Company and the Decorative Bronze Company.

After many years of planning, the memorial was dedicated on June 17, 1887, setting a Connecticut crowd record of 175,000 people in attendance at the ceremony and parade, including Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Henry Sheridan as guests of honor.  

Standing over 100 feet high, each side of the monument features inscriptions of battles from the four memorialized wars. Additionally, the northwest face bears a large plaque engraved with “1861-1865 Soldiers and Sailors of New Haven who died in defense of the Union.” This inscription is followed by a three-column casualty list of twelve regiments of infantrymen, and depicts numbered badges and flags. 

In 2006, the 14-foot bronze statue that sits atop the monument, known as the Angel of Peace, was removed to allow for repair of the memorial. After withstanding numerous hurricanes and blizzards, the monument had begun to deteriorate to such an extent that it was at risk of collapsing. To prevent this, the statue was removed during renovations and was placed back in its original position once construction was completed. During the monument’s restoration, the Angel of Peace was exhibited on the New Haven Green, allowing locals and visitors a chance to admire the statue in close proximity. 

In 2018, just a mere eight years after restoration efforts were completed, the monument suffered a lighting strike, resulting in electrical components and circuit breakers that lit up the Angel of Peace to fry. After over a year of darkness, the monument was once again restored in early 2020, this time with LED spotlights to protect it from future lightning strikes. 

Today, the monument stands stronger, brighter, and more impressive than ever before, and it awaits you in East Rock Park.  Be sure to add a visit to the summit to your summer itinerary and see this New Haven marvel in person.

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