A Letter To The People Of Cattaraugus County

To the Legislators, Administrators, and People of Cattaraugus County, and the Descendants and Friends of Cattaraugus County’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors:

Cattaraugus County is on the verge of making a big mistake. On October 23, 2013, the county legislators voted unanimously to use $125,000 in casino funds to demolish the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building and the adjacent Board of Elections building on Court Street in Little Valley.

Six days later, in an Olean Times Herald article about the planned demolition, County Public Works Commissioner Joseph Pillittere stated, “The county submitted a State Environmental Quality Review, which looks for any significant impacts to the area, including historical. The results showed that there were no significant findings from a historical standpoint.”

To the contrary, as its name implies, the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building has tremendous historical significance as the county’s most prominent and significant Civil War memorial. More than two hundred Civil War veterans and a large crowd of citizens were present on September 7, 1914, to dedicate the memorial. The building’s purpose was stated in a plaque above the entrance: “To the memory of its soldiers and sailors in the War of the Rebellion, this building is erected by Cattaraugus County.”

Almost a hundred years later, why does Cattaraugus County want to betray the memory of its Civil War soldiers and sailors by destroying their memorial?

In his statement, Mr. Pillittere observed that the building has been significantly altered since its construction, that it is functionally obsolete, and that it does not comply with the American with Disabilities Act. But those conditions do not negate the fact that the building was dedicated as a Civil War memorial, and it will remain a Civil War memorial until the county destroys it.

Civil War veterans were a driving force behind the memorial. They announced plans for it at a gathering in Salamanca in October 1909. Two years later, in September 1911, the memorial’s cornerstone was laid.

At the 1914 dedication ceremony, James S. Whipple delivered the main address. He was the son of First Sergeant Henry F. Whipple of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, Cattaraugus County’s most representative Civil War regiment. The elder Whipple was captured at Gettysburg and died as a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Georgia. In his dedicatory oration, James Whipple stated, “We dedicate this structure with our hearts full of love and loyalty for our country, and wish it ever to stand, signifying the deathless patriotism of American soldiers and sailors and their loyalty to the Stars and Stripes.”

Why does Cattaraugus County want to spurn that loyalty and love and deny the patriotism of its Civil War soldiers and sailors by tearing down their memorial?

Some questions for Cattaraugus County legislators and administrators:

What does the county propose to do with the site when the memorial is razed?

Is the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation aware of the county’s decision? Has the county presented the State Environmental Quality Review to the NYS Office of Historic Preservation, as required?

Is any Federal funding or permitting involved in the memorial’s destruction or the re-use of the site? If so, has Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as amended been followed?

Why has the county neglected to maintain the memorial, in defiance of New York State General Municipal Law 77-A, “Construction and Maintenance of Memorial Building or Monument by county or city”?

Are county veterans’ groups-American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, Vietnam Veterans of America chapters-aware of the county’s decision? What do they think about the plan to destroy the Civil War memorial?

Mark H. Dunkelman

Providence, Rhode Island

Great-grandson of Cpl. John Langhans,

Co. H, 154th New York,

President (1916) of the Cattaraugus County Veterans Association