PEORIA — One of the earliest Civil War monuments in the state is on its way to being restored in a new location — perhaps within this calendar year.
The Peoria County memorial, approved in September 1865 and dedicated in October 1866 before a crowd of 30,000 on the grounds of the current county courthouse, was dismantled in the 1960s.
A group of local history buffs spent the last few years tracking down its pieces, many of which were discarded at Detweiller Marina, and planning ways to display them again.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Peoria County committee unanimously recommended they receive permission to transport them to Springdale Cemetery to be reassembled and restored at the facility's entrance.
"Because taxpayer dollars were spent even way back then (on constructing the monument in 1865-66) ... it is our memorial. We own it," county administrator Scott Sorrel said by way of explaining to members why their assent was necessary.
The local group of volunteers has helped solve what "has been a bit of a mystery for Peoria County," board member Kate Pastucha said, asking the panel's consent. "... It's a really cool piece of our history."
Indeed, right now the oldest recorded Civil War memorial in the state appears to be one standing in Byron, south of Rockford. It was dedicated a week after Peoria County's, and could lose the title — or at least have to add the qualifier "continually" — if the local one is resurrected.
"Not only is it a significant piece of Peoria history, it's a significant piece of Illinois history, it's a significant piece of American history," said Bruce Brown, one of the volunteers along with Bob Hoffer and Norm Kelly.
They've been in contact with the Vermont company that originally supplied the marble for the monument 153 years ago about helping to get pieces to replace the few that are missing.
"(The pieces) have been out of public view since August of (1962). That's about to change," Brown said, outlining his hope that work can be arranged and completed this year through donated funds and grants.
And the eagle that topped the monument — which disappeared or disintegrated when it was moved — was based off a Civil War regiment's mascot. It also served as the inspiration for a corporate mascot or logo used by the company that's now Case International, and the local group of preservationists has been in contact with the company's foundation about a grant to aid in the restoration, Brown said.
The same eagle, which was often loosed on the Civil War battlefield and flew screaming over the melee, also served as an inspiration for the "Screaming Eagles" nickname for the 101st Airborne Division — and that organization is "extremely interested that on rededication day that they be here to participate," Brown said.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.