Camp Tyler monument breathes life into Meriden’s Civil War history



MERIDEN — Passersby strolling around Hanover Pond likely have no idea that the picturesque body of water ensconced by trees used to be a Civil War training site called Camp Tyler. From October 1861 to February 1862, soldiers in the 1st Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Cavalry trained at Camp Tyler prior to marching into battle against the Confederacy.

Meriden’s Linear Trails Advisory Committee seeks to bring this local history back to the forefront of public attention by creating a monument to commemorate the Camp Tyler soldiers, many of whom fought in major Civil War battles such as Second Bull Run. The regiment was also present at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. 

The monument, to be unveiled at Dossin Beach in a ceremony on Oct. 22, will consist of a boulder with a plaque dedicated to the 1st Connecticut Cavalry. The regiment, which numbered 1,833 recruits, suffered 804 casualties during its three years and 10 months in service. Thirty-five of these recruits hailed from Meriden. The 1st Connecticut Cavalry was the only regiment allowed to muster out of service and return to its home state still mounted, which was considered a great honor for its members.

“We want citizens to be engaged in their community and to understand the history that took place in Meriden, including the sacrifices of local residents in the state and how people worked together to achieve a goal in the Civil War,” Linear Trails Advisory Committee Chairman Robert Marchetti said. “This will show our appreciation and recognize their efforts and sacrifices.”

Making a monument

In 2019, Civil War re-enactment group Company F of the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry first approached the Linear Trails Advisory Committee about erecting a monument to Camp Tyler. The trails committee oversees the city’s linear trails, one of which hugs the side of Hanover Pond.

“Even by actual veterans of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry, no one put up any monument at any battlefields where the 1st Connecticut was involved in those battles,” said Paul Martinello of Company F. “There’s a history to this area but no mention of the 1st Connecticut. When we heard about that, we said there should be some recognition.”

Company F operates under the National Regiment and raises money for battlefield restoration. If no one helps preserve these historical locations, they will not exist for people to come and learn about history, Martinello added. This is why the group sought to bring attention to the 1st Connecticut Cavalry.

Although the pandemic delayed the commemoration process, the Linear Trails Advisory Committee and Company F finally settled on a plan earlier this year. Now the committee has begun planning for the ceremony while waiting for the monument to be delivered to Dossin Beach, where it will sit under a tree with an American flag hanging over it.

Since the original idea of erecting an obelisk proved too costly for the committee and Company F, the groups turned to the community for a more locally sourced solution.

Meriden-based company Suzio York Hill donated the boulder, which originates from the city. Cheshire’s Barker Specialities Company offered a major discount on the bronze plaque. Finally, LaRosa Construction, also in Meriden, has agreed to transport the boulder — which weighs somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds — to the site free of charge.

“My family has an 80-year history in Meriden and Meriden is very important to us,” said Jerry Barker of Barker Specialties. “The Civil War history predates my ancestors, but anything to do with Meriden’s history is important to our family.”

Remembering the past

Created by a Meriden Cutlery Co. dam dating back to the 1850s, Hanover Pond existed during the Civil War as a smaller iteration of today's pond. During the time of Camp Tyler, much of the area consisted of a field, with the Quinnipiac River running through. According to local historian Justin Piccirillo, this land was known as “The Meadows” in the 1800s. By 1865, however, the pond flooded much of the land where the soldiers had trained only three years prior.

While Camp Tyler has floated in and out of local lore for over 160 years, Piccirillo explained that many people forgot about it in the years after the war ended.

“The soldiers left in 1862, and then it really wasn’t thought about anymore because soon thereafter, an amusement park came to the site,” Piccirillo said. “It was like out of sight, out of mind.”

Hanover Park opened in 1894 with roller coasters, boat rides, a casino and more. As a means of bolstering the area’s trolley business, it became a staple of the region until its decline in the 1920s. Since then, the city created Dossin Beach along the western side of Hanover Pond, and now the location serves as a park with walking trails and picnic areas.

A stone marker, debatably labeled 1861 or 1864, located at the American Legion in Meriden, represents a site of a former Civil War camp near Hanover Pond in Meriden. Photo taken Wednesday September 21, 2011. (Matt Andrew/ Record-Journal)

Ginger Jewell, the director of the Meriden Historical Society, elaborated on the importance of commemorating Camp Tyler and having a permanent monument by the pond for people to see on a daily basis.

“Learning about local history offers numerous rewards, ranging from a stronger sense of identity and belonging, to the development of critical thinking skills and fostering empathy,” Jewell said. “It brings communities together, preserves cultural heritage, and enriches individuals' understanding of their roots and the world they inhabit.”

A ceremony for the community

The commemoration ceremony will include a musical performance from Connecticut Valley Field Music Fife and Drum Corps, as well as speeches from people who have contributed to the commemoration process. Organizations such as the Meriden Historical Society plan to attend, as do many city officials.

Marchetti hopes families and members of the Meriden community and surrounding areas will attend the commemoration ceremony. He added that attending the ceremony offers a great way to learn more about local history.

“We’re all part of Meriden’s history,” Barker said.

The city of Meriden has many untold stories, according to Piccirillo, who hopes people of all ages will be interested in learning more.

“Meriden has such a celebrated history,” Piccirillo said. “We need to explore that more, to celebrate that more, to just be more aware of it.”

The ceremony will give people a chance to discover more about the place in which they live and to get a taste of what the city was like over a century and a half ago.

“Most people, including myself, weren’t aware Camp Tyler was in this area,” Barker said. “This is a great reminder that Meriden played an important role in a very divisive war that almost tore this country apart.”

The commemoration ceremony will take place at noon on Sunday, Oct. 22, at Dossin Beach. It will mark 162 years to the day since soldiers in Meriden from around the state began training for war.

rwachman@record-journal.com



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