Two non-profits kick off 'Every Soldier's Square' project in Appleton

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) -- On this Memorial Day, as many attend services to pay their respects to those who gave it all to serve our country, a group in Appleton is hoping to do the same with the revamping of Soldier Square.

It’s located right downtown, one block off of College Avenue.

Two non-profit organizations, Sculpture Valley Inc. and Hearthstone Historic House Museum, are teaming up for the "Every Soldier's Square" project.

The goal is to restore Soldier Square to its original footprint in Appleton.

“This was a market street, and business holders were most prominent in the city,” said George Schroeder, executive director of Hearthstone Historic House Museum.

Now a parking lot and service alley, Schroeder said Soldier Square isn’t what it used to be decades ago.

“If you can picture the alley behind me at that time was a 25-yard wide promenade, green grass, a monument at this end dedicated to the Civil War dead, a monument at the other end dedicated to the Spanish-American War dead,” said Schroeder.

In fact, the Spanish-American War Memorial isn’t even there anymore. Its current location is in Pierce Park.

“We didn’t discover that that monument was part of Soldier Square until about 3 years ago when a photo surfaced showing that it was,” said Appleton Alderman Alex Schultz. He is also the executive director of Sculpture Valley Inc.

Through research, Schultz said they discovered something else.

“In a deed from Amice Lawrence of Lawrence University, it specified that he gave this property to the city with the caveat that it remain a pedestrian mall,” said Schultz. “The city accepted that, and if it ever changed it would revert back to family ownership. Over the course of time that deed got lost in the history books and land changed. It is not considered a pedestrian mall or plaza anymore, it’s more of a service alley and parking space.”

Schultz and Schroeder said that deed only gives them more ambition to revitalize Soldier Square.

“The idea is to get us back to the original purpose of that deed and the original idea of one of our city’s founding fathers who knew how important it was to have a civic place,” said Schultz.

“Our goal is to recreate that green space, have both monuments in place and perhaps another monument in the middle because we do not have memorials for any conflict after WWI here in this city and that’s an oversight. That needs to be corrected. This could be a place for all of those memorials and we think it would be a marvelous way to recreate Soldier Square,” said Schroeder.

To fund the "Every Soldier's Square" project, the non-profits will be selling bricks for $40 a piece. Each brick can be engraved for a military member. A fourth of the proceeds will benefit the John H. Bradley VA Clinic in Appleton.

The 25,000 bricks up for engraving were part of the trolley system.

“We decided to make them part of this memorial, reincarnating them close to where originally sat in downtown Appleton,” said Schroeder. “I can’t think of a better way to use these historic bricks we have than to memorialize the sacrifices of all of our families, of all veterans and active-duty personnel have made to protect our country.”

Nothing is set in stone just yet, as Schultz introduced a resolution to the city to revitalize Soldier Square.

“Really it’s about starting the dialogue,” said Schultz. “I am not asking the city to commit to doing anything specific about the space but really just putting a stake in the ground.”

Schultz said there are a lot of moving pieces, but he’s hoping for the best.

“Given that we don’t know what we will be able to accomplish, there is an out: So anyone who buys a brick, gives $40m and it doesn’t quite happen or what we want to do, we will find another opportunity for those bricks,” said Schultz.

The bricks go on sale Monday online at www.everysoldierssquare.org.

“Those bricks will be part of the monument, they will be used as part of the surrounding, so now this monument becomes a testament to everyone’s sacrifice,” said Schroeder.