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May 25, 2021

Hamilton County’s Unknown Soldier Memorial

By David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Every Memorial Day, we look at various sites and objects that recognize the sacrifice of American soldiers. Here in Hamilton County, there is one site that is less noticeable and maybe doesn’t get attention like the monument at Veteran’s Plaza at the courthouse or the 1868 monument at Crownland Cemetery. However, it’s still worth studying because of the people who placed it there. This is the monument to unknown soldiers at Crownland.

Crownland Cemetery was established in 1868. In the beginning, it was run by the county who established an area called the “Soldiers’ Lot” in 1879. This is where burials of Civil War veterans could be grouped together. Sometimes these burials were moved in from other cemeteries. The section has African American soldiers and white soldiers interred side by side. The Civil War-era cannon, (a 30-pounder Parrott Rifle), was moved to the Soldiers’ Lot in 1940.

The lot was the focus of the yearly Decoration Day event, (as Memorial Day was known then). There was a memorial to unknown soldiers installed perhaps some time around 1893. However, this was made of wood and by the Decoration Day ceremonies of 1899, it had become weather-beaten and broken. A new permanent memorial was proposed on June 30, 1899.

The proposal was put forth by the local chapter of the Women’s Relief Corps, Lookout Post No. 72, the auxiliary to the Civil War veterans’ group called the Grand Army of the Republic. The women of the W. R. C. were people like eighty-six-year-old Catherine Smith, a former army nurse who had carried water to wounded soldiers at the Battle of Murfreesboro in 1863. The women raised money for the monument by conducting lunches, ice cream socials, and shows, and even holding a recycling event for old rubber items like overshoes and bicycle tires.

The memorial itself was carved and constructed by H. M. “Harry” Scearce, a local stone carver. Scearce had come to town in 1889, and was soon recognized as a quality workman. He received praise in the newspaper for the Harrison family marker that he carved in 1898. He was forward thinking – he began using a gasoline-powered engine to run a pneumatic air chisel in 1904. In 1907, he was commissioned by citizens of Pendleton to create a monument to town founder Thomas Pendleton. His work was not limited to gravestones or similar items. He cut the stonework for the Model Mill when it was being built in 1891.  He also cut stone for school buildings and in 1902, he installed the stone curb around the courthouse. He evidently had good mechanical skills, as he got two patents for devices unrelated to stone-cutting. He left Noblesville and moved to Seattle in 1909.

Scearce was very civic-minded and furnished the monument at cost. The finished marker is described as being made of Indiana oolitic limestone, seven feet high, of a sarcophagus design, with a carved wreath representing oak and laurel leaves surrounding the date, and “rustic” letters saying “Unknown”. A bronze marker is attached to the front which says, “1861-1865  In memory of the unknown dead who gave their lives in the defense of their country. Erected by Lookout W. R. C. No. 72.  Noblesville, Indiana”

The finished monument was installed in December of 1900, which is the reason for the date carved on the face of the stone. It was officially dedicated on Decoration Day of 1901. One of the two Noblesville newspapers – the Hamilton County Democrat – had this to say about it:

“To keep sacred the memory of the patriots who fill unknown graves, whose lives were sacrificed in the dark days of the nation’s peril, is an attribute that commends these women to our most ardent thanks and will be a lesson in patriotism to rising generations.”

“In this connection it is not out of place to say that we hope the people of Noblesville will never permit this day to become on of sporting holiday – that the greed of gain or the pleasure of debauch – will not allow us to so far forget ourselves as to offend good taste and patriotism by indulging in ball games or other public sports on the day when ‘even the leaves sing a requiem for the Nation’s dead and the flowers yield their choicest perfume.’”

“It has been declared by some Grand Army posts throughout the country that the holiday made of Decoration Day in some places is an ‘affront to the living soldier and the widow and orphans of the dead.’”

“We believe the people of Noblesville will remember the sacredness of Memorial Day in its proper observance.”