It’s been a while since we brought you an update regarding the preservation battle to save the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building in Little Valley, New York. You can get caught up on the story in some earlier posts written by our editor and blogger Chris Mackowski. I recently “sat down” over email with Tom Stetz, Chairman of CAMP (Citizens Advocating Preservation), to talk about the most recent efforts to preserve this memorial. I’ve known Tom for many years, through my good friendship with his son, Kyle. As a matter of fact, I was with Tom while the CAMP group was waiting to hear whether or not their bid for the purchase of the memorial building was being reviewed. We had a great discussion of the project as we helped his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson move into the their house in the June heat in Virginia. More on that story in a minute.
Tom shared with me a little of the history of how CAMP formed via a written article by fellow CAMP member and 154th New York Infantry historian, Mark Dunkelman. Mark writes, “Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation was formed for the purpose of preserving the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building in Little Valley, New York, and urging its restoration and reuse.” The memorial, which had been dedicated in 1914, sat vacant after the county historical museum that occupied it left in 2004. By 2013, after nearly a decade of vacancy, the “Cattaraugus County Legislators passed an act appropriating $125,000 in casino funds to demolish the Memorial, which was deemed to be deteriorated beyond reasonable repair,” noted Dunkelman.
The reaction to this decision forced the the County Legislature to “put off the demolition until all options for its preservation have been explored.” Unfortunately, demolition once again was on the table, and “As a result, in November 2014, CAMP was organized.”
Dan Welch: So Tom, since that moment, when CAMP was organized, what has been some of the organization’s efforts to stop the demolition?
Tom Stetz: CAMP’S mission from day one was to help Cattaraugus County find a way to save and restore its only Veterans Memorial. The biggest hurdle was to convince the County that it was not just some old building we were trying to save from the wrecking ball but the County’s own and only Memorial to its Veterans. Right to the end when the County deeded the Memorial to CAMP they refused to refer to the building as a Memorial and never referred to it by its official name, THE CATTARAUGUS COUNTY MEMORIAL AND HISTORICAL BUILDING. Camp spent over 3 years trying to convince the County that their demolition plans where wrong and not in the best interest of the citizens of Cattaraugus County and beyond. CAMP gathered much support from Veterans’ organizations, governmental officials, local citizens,historic preservation societies and professional historic architects but was unable to convince the County that they should save the Memorial. The County only saw 2 options, demolition or rid itself of its own Memorial. After a January 2017 NY State Supreme Court ruling that the County could sell the Memorial, the County decided to offer the Memorial for sale through a bidding process. In July 2017 CAMP was declared high bidder for the Memorial and on October 4, 2017 CAMP was granted the deed to the Memorial site thus ending the County’s plans for demolition of this historic Memorial. However a new battle begins, restoration of the Memorial, as CAMP must now raise the funds needed to “RESTORE THE DOME OF COURAGE.”
DW: A lot of work and a long time, but well worth the fight to preserve this unique piece of Civil War history and memorial to this county’s veterans. Tell us a little more about your new battle, restoration and the “Dome of Courage.”
TS: Once CAMP realized that the County had no interest in developing the Memorial site and CAMP would become the steward of this significant piece of County history,the members agreed that we should aim for the stars and not just the tree tops. As one of several coincidences, a relative of a CAMP member who worked for various Architectural firms during his career salvaged several hundred drawings which were slated for the dumpsters and included were the 16 original architect’s drawings for this Memorial . The details of the original dome gave us what we needed to make the decision to attempt to replace the dome. The thought is not to do just the basics but fully restore the Memorial with a glass dome atop. This would be a proper way to honor those soldiers and sailors to who the Memorial was dedicated in 1914. To honor the courage of the over 3000 Civil War Veterans from the County, CAMP members decided to “RELIGHT THE DOME OF COURAGE” A restored Memorial in Little Valley, NY, the County Seat for Cattaraugus County, could be the center piece for some economic development by taping into the heritage tourism interest.
DW: You’ve mentioned several times the members of CAMP. What is your membership like?
TS: CAMP IS A 501(C)3 non-profit corporation with Federal and New York State tax exemption status. The present unofficial CAMP Membership email list is about 90, with about 20 active members handling most of the “on site work” in Cattaraugus/Chautauqua Counties. Several hundred other contacts, mostly decendants of Civil War Veterans and / or military personnel have supported CAMP’S efforts over the past years. Most of the CAMPERS are over 50 years old and a major goal of CAMP is to recruit younger members. CAMP’S 9 member Board of Directors include an Attorney,Writer-Artist-Historian, Retired College Professor,Public Historian, Retired Corporate Manager and other history minded preservationists. Some of the Directors live in Rhode Island, Virginia and California as well as Western NY State. CAMP is advised by the Landmark Society of Western NY, a Buffalo Preservation Architectural Firm as well as a Buffalo Legal firm with vast experience in Historic preservation projects. Most of the CAMP members are involved because they want to preserve a unique historic structure so future generations will have a physical link and learning venue to the County’s past.
DW: You mentioned to me on that hot summer day, lifting a couch or washing machine I think, that you had become Chairman of CAMP. How did you get involved with the project?
TS: I remember visiting the Memorial when I was in grade school in the late 50’s and I was impressed by it and always remembered it was dedicated to the Civil War soldiers and sailors. I did not think much about it until the 1990’s when Kyle got interested in the Civil War and we started taking family trips to Gettysburg. Kyle’s interest rekindled his mother’s interest and I followed but not as intense as Kyle and his mother Cheryl. Finally in 2013 when the news of the impending demolition of the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building by its owner Cattaraugus County came to light, it just seemed wrong to me. After visiting Gettysburg for so many times and seeing all the Memorials honoring all the brave men who fought there and how the monuments were preserved and respected by so many visitors, I thought that Cattaraugus County must be persuaded to save its only Memorial to its own brave men who fought so courageously in the Civil War. Also the Little Valley Memorial was the only memorial that Cattaraugus County had to any of its veterans from any military conflict. Finally in 2014 during a meeting of a small group of concerned citizens I WAS VOLUNTEERED AND I ACCEPTED the position of Chairman for CITIZENS ADVOCATING MEMORIAL PRESERVATION (C.A.M.P.) whose mission was to help the County save and restore its own Civil War Memorial Building.
DW: I think many will agree with you that this Memorial needed to be saved, and now, restored. How can other like minds get involved?
TS: The best way to get involved is to visit the CAMP web site at: www.cattcomemorial.com. There is a lot of information, pictures and videos and links to Face Book and Twitter. Also there are two easy ways to make a tax deductible donation to CAMP on the web page. On the top of the Home Page just click the DONATE tab and you will be able to make a donation to CAMP through the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation which is the preferred way. Or you can go to the bottom of the Home page and donate through Go Fund Me. Also you can hit the CONTACT CAMP tab to become a member and support CAMP’S efforts any way you can.
DW: It sounds as though CAMP has been busy over the last few years, to say the least. What’s next for the Memorial and CAMP?
TS: The Memorial has been vacant since 2004 with very little attention given to it by the County. CAMP plans to winterize the Memorial which means roof repairs to prevent some water leakage. Work with the Village of Little Valley regarding building codes and zoning requirements, developing a five year plan for restoration activity, and putting together grant applications for much needed funding is also on the top of the list. And, on November 6, CAMP attended the Little Valley Bicentennial meeting to discuss how CAMP and the Memorial will be part of the Celebration in the summer of 2018.
DW: Thanks for talking with us at ECW and we look forward to more updates on this project! Thanks also to CAMP for your hard work in preserving this piece of history.