By Nancy Bertrand
In the spring of 1867, the citizens of the Town of South Reading wanted to erect some sort of memorial to the brave men who had fought and died in the ‘War of the Rebellion.’ The town’s finances were especially strained at that time because of debts incurred during the war years.
At the same time, the rapidly growing town was finding it difficult to house the functions of government in the old “Town House” on the Common that had been erected in 1834.
To meet both needs, the town’s largest employer and land-owner, Cyrus Wakefield, came forward with a solution. He volunteered to donate a lot of land and a cash contribution of $30,000 to build a new “Town House,” which would house a “Soldiers’ Memorial Hall” in honor of the Civil War dead.
Overwhelmed by the generosity of this offer, the town accepted, and, in addition, voted to change its name, in his honor, to Wakefield, Massachusetts. (Mr. Wakefield, it must be noted, was so pleased by the name change that he spent four times the amount of the promised money on the new Town Hall, which was turned over to the Town on February 22 1871.)
Inside the building, the Civil War memorial tablets occupied an important place, and listed the names of the soldiers who had died in the war.
The inscription reads, in part:
The Citizens Of Wakefield
To be Inscribed Upon These Tablets
The Names of Their Sons
Who Fell Representing Them in
Defence (sic) of the Union*
In the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866
And in Whose Honor
They Have Erected
Prior to the demolition of the old Town Hall on October 20, 1958, the Memorial Tablets were moved to the Lafayette Building, which had been designated as the new Town Hall.
*Note that “defense” is spelled “defence” on the tablets.