Detroit’s GAR Building: the Union veterans would be in tears

The GAR Building in Detroit

The GAR Building in Detroit

GAR Building front view

GAR Building front view

GAR Building Cornerstone

GAR Building Cornerstone

B. Nash

B. Nash

When the discharged Union soldiers came home after the War of 1861-1865, they retained their bonds that had been formed in military service never to be broken until death. They were the men of the Grand Army of the Republic-the GAR.  In communites all across the land (in the North, anyway), GAR posts were formed comprised of those honorable men. In Detroit, there were four GAR posts. Often local GAR posts were instrumental in obtaining funds for statues and monuments pertaining to the war. Such was the case the of GAR post building  in Detroit located at  Grand River and Cass Avenue. The total cost of the building was $44,000. The GAR posts covered $6,000 of that total, while the city paid the rest. 
The building was magnificent in it’s day. In that unique structure, the men who had worn the blue meet in regular meetings. Among other things, they must have recalled the days of their service. One can only imagine tales of battles like Gettysburg and Shiloh. They probably told of seeing various Generals-or maybe even President Lincoln. I’m sure they talked about the horrible food (smile). It was a very special fellowship of men, indeed. By 1951, the last Union Army veteran in Michigan died. However, the GAR had also stopped using the building during the 1930’s due to dwindling numbers. Now they only haunt the building-ghosts of a bygone era. That which was thought would never be forgotten-their sacrifice and valor-has largely been ignored.
However, even though the GAR is no more-their tradition and memory is carried on today by the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). This organization is the legal heir to the GAR. It’s members are all descendants of men who served honorably in the Civil War. Their mission is to “keep green” in the minds of all what was done for the preservation of the United States of America.
Even so, the once glorious GAR building languishes. The inside has been terribly vandalized. There’s a hole in the roof and ceiling. The outside is boarded. Chips of cement fall off the building onto the sidewalk. Such a jewel going to waste. The building was designed by Julian Hess. He chose the Richardson Romanesque style. Most people think the building looks like some kind of castle-which it does. Mr. Hess had died before the building was complete. Richard Raseman completed it in 1890. The location of the hall was considered prime in it’s day. The first floor actually contained markets for various shopping needs. The building became vacant in 1973.  
There has been talk over the years of various buyers with plans to redevelop the site. In the meantime, it stands as a testament to what once was. Because of it’s location in downtown Detroit, the building is seen by hundreds daily as they drive past. I’m sure most have no idea what the building was. Sadly, it’s another visable reminder of the lack of care for a ‘treasure’ within the city limits of Detroit. The “boys in blue” would be in tears.
Sons of Union Veterans, Camp 2, Department of Michigan

Sons of Union Veterans, Camp 2, Department of Michigan

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5 Responses to “Detroit’s GAR Building: the Union veterans would be in tears”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Louis you are so right. Detroit, for whatever reason, has very little sense for preserving it’s rich treasures and history. I will make the Carnegie Library one of my future trips. Thanks for the tip!

  2. louis says:

    As a Tiger fan and Civil War buff, I find it sad to see that no one has bothered to preserve the legacy of the Boys of ’61 in Detroit. If any of you have the time, please arrange a visit to the Carnegie Library in Carnegie, PA to see a relatively complete GAR post (Post 153, Thomas Espy Post) in the library. Google “carnegiecarnegie” for details. The post has been lovingly refurbished and is due to re-open 12 Feb.

  3. Nate says:

    Nice picture of the group!

  4. donna says:

    What a shame

  5. Geoffrey says:

    we stand on the shoulders of giants…

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