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The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch

By Dan Brenner

Posted on July 3, 2019

[Cyclists in Grand Army Plaza], circa 1900, Black-and-white-photograph, v1987.41.7; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Towering over the northern entrance of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch was built between 1889-1892 in the Beaux-Arts style as part of Prospect Park Plaza, known today as Grand Army Plaza. Construction of the arch was supported in part by the Grand Army of the Republic, a private fraternal organization for Union Army veterans of the American Civil War founded just after the war’s end, in 1866. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch is a monument to the northern victory during the Civil War and to the Northern military’s sacrifices to achieve the reunification of the country.

The massive arch was designed by John Hemingway Duncan and construction of the monument was overseen by Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux and architect Stanford White. A New York-based architect, Duncan is now considered one of the more important architects of the twentieth century, responsible for such grandiose works as Grant’s Tomb on the upper west side of Manhattan and the Hotel Wolcott in midtown Manhattan. The infamous duo of city park design, when Olmsted and Vaux began developing Prospect Park in the 1860s, they were already well-known for their other monumental landscape achievement, Central Park. Also prominently displayed atop the arch is a bronze sculpture of the winged Goddess Columbia riding into battle upon her chariot, flanked by two winged Victory figures. Brooklyn-based sculptor Frederick MacMonnies designed and installed this bronze sculpture as well as two others decorating the arch in 1898. The dedication of the arch took place on October 21, 1892 and was attended by President Grover Cleveland who spoke at the ceremony.

Designed in homage to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch stands in Grand Army Plaza at eighty feet in both height and width, its archway fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide. In 1973, the arch was designated a national landmark, soon followed by the entire plaza in 1975. Later that same year, MacMonnies’ crowning sculpture of the winged Goddess was restored, for she had fallen off her chariot a year prior due to the passage of time. The arch would be restored twice more, first in 1980 and once again in 2000.

This image comes from the Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza contact prints (v1987.41). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch please visit our image gallery here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected].

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