Groton welcomes back cannon with ceremony


Photos by David Blatchley/contributing photographer
Groton Town Supervisor Glenn Morey speaks Tuesday during the rededication of a Civil War-era Parrott rifle at Groton Rural Cemetery. The naval 20-pounder had been sold to a Pennsylvania man, but outcry from the public brought it back to the cemetery.

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Pointing to the large crowd on hand Tuesday morning to celebrate the rededication of a Civil War-era naval cannon in the Groton Rural Cemetery, Sheldon Brooks was able to find a silver lining in the cannon’s strange journey to a private collector in Pennsylvania and then, after community outcry, back to Groton.
“When I first started here, it was a year before I even knew this was here, and I don’t think there were many who cared much about it, but you can bet people know about it now,” Brooks, a member of the Cemetery Association, said of the 150-year-old cannon. “Hopefully some good came out of this, hopefully it’s brought a little sense of history to the town.”
About 75 people attended the ceremony, which saw the 1,690-pound Parrot rifle, used by the Navy during the Civil War, rededicated to, as the plaque on the cannon now reads, “all men and women who served our country in times of war.”
The cannon, which was loaned by the U.S. government to a Groton chapter of the Civil War veterans group the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1901, had been sold for $15,000 to Ken Watterson, owner of the Civil War Artillery Museum in Pennsylvania, in September of 2004.
The decision to sell the cannon was one of necessity, said Clark, as the cemetery was in need of funding.
“The cannon was deteriorating, the foundation was about ready to crumble, and we needed the money,” Clark said. “When the offer came to buy it and take care of keeping it up, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Still, the sale prompted outcry from community members and from Civil War historians, and the cannon was returned to the cemetery in June.
“I’m so happy it’s back,” said Dick Crozier, a Civil War re-enactor and historian who had pushed for the cannon’s return. “I wish it had never left, but I’m glad Groton came out today and I’m just glad it’s back where it belongs.”
The ceremony Tuesday included July 4 prayers for American armed forces from members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, an offshoot of the GAR, a full color guard and seven-rifle salute from the American Legion, and a history lesson on the cannon from Groton Historian Rosemarie Tucker.
The ceremony also gave Groton residents a chance to thank two of the people responsible for bringing the cannon back to the cemetery — brother and sister David and Helen Brooks, former Groton residents who donated $8000 to retrieve the cannon from Watterson.
The Brooks grew up in the Cortland area in the 1930s, graduating from Groton High School in the early 1940s, and they were approached by numerous Groton residents with thanks and remembrances.
“I think we all really appreciate what the Brooks have done,” said Ed Westlake, a longtime Groton resident and member of the Cemetery Association who was attending the ceremony with his wife, Mary. “The cannon is a piece of Groton’s history and we’re glad it’s back.”
Helen Brooks was overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation from the Groton community.
“The turnout is absolutely amazing,” said Brooks, who now lives in Rochester. “Dave called me after he saw a piece in the Cortland Standard and said this is something we should do and I’m very pleased now that we did it.”
With a brother, Hugh Brooks, who died in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, both David and Helen Brooks said that the rededication was their way of paying tribute.
“At least two fellas in my high school class gave their lives and my brother was killed during the war,” said David Brooks, who also served, during the Asiatic occupation after the war. “I thought if we got the cannon back and had it rededicated to everybody who served, it would be worthwhile for the town.”
The Brooks’ request that the cannon be dedicated to veterans of all wars went against the initial dedication of the cannon, which came from the local GAR to those who lost their lives in the Civil War, but Sons of the Civil War Commander Dale Theetge said that his forefathers would approve of the rededication.
“I think it was always the intention of the GAR to honor veterans of all wars,” said Theetge, who is from Ovid. “I’m sure if those guys were here, they’d support this.”
Surrounded by Groton residents and area historians eager to thank him for his donation, David Brooks was just glad to be able to give something back to a community he still cared about, despite not having lived there for decades.
“You can either let an incident go by and regret it for the rest of your life, or you can do something you feel is necessary and feel like you’re doing your part,” said Brooks. “(The cannon) is the type of thing that holds a town together, it gives a town pride, so I hope it isn’t forgotten for a long time.”


Groton’s Parrot rifle has long history

The 1,690 pound cannon, or Parrott rifle, that has once again been placed in the Groton Rural Cemetery, was created at the Robert Parker Parrott Foundry in eastern New York in 1861, and was fitted to the U.S.S. James S. Chambers that same year, said Groton Town Historian Rosemarie Tucker.
Capable of firing projectiles weighing up to 20 pounds, the Parrot rifle was known as a “20-pounder.”
The Chambers was used throughout the Civil War to blockade the Confederacy from receiving supplies along the east coast of the United States, and according to deck logs, this particular cannon, while aboard the ship, was fired 55 times.
The ship was decommissioned in 1865, and in 1900 the Parrot rifle was loaned to the Groton-based L. Dwight Allen Post, No. 260, of the Grand Army of the Republic by the U.S. government to be used as a monument.
Many Civil War cannons that were loaned to communities as monuments were recalled by the government during the two world wars to be melted down and recast, Tucker said, but the Groton cannon was not among them. “I don’t know whether they lost track of our cannon or what, but we lucked out,” she said.



Officials press for federal disaster aid

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Although an initial round of federal aid for communities suffering from flood damage did not include Cortland County, county officials have been pressuring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reconsider.
“We’re still waiting for an official determination,” Brenda DeRusso, assistant fire emergency management coordinator for the county, said this morning.
A FEMA team did a “windshield survey,” a quick drive-through look at damage, in Cortland County on Saturday, DeRusso said, and came up with a preliminary countywide damage assessment of less than $50,000.
“I know, in working with town supervisors and highway superintendents, that just in two or three municipalities alone we exceed that,” DeRusso said.
The county needs to reach a threshold of about $150,000 in damage in order to receive FEMA assistance, which would pay for 87.5 percent of the damage done to county roads and infrastructure — 75 percent from FEMA and 12.5 percent from the state.
Confident that the county exceeded that threshold, DeRusso requested that a FEMA appeal team visit the county, and the team came Tuesday, surveying areas that DeRusso and county Highway Superintendent Don Chambers specified as particularly damaged, with a particular emphasis on the McGraw area.
The county highway system alone absorbed about $100,000 of damage, Chambers said.
DeRusso expected a decision on the assistance from FEMA sometime today.
Unfortunately, Cortland County will fall short of the criteria for federal assistance for individuals dealing with flood damage, DeRusso said, but individuals who have seen significant damage to their properties or businesses may be eligible to receive state assistance.
State grants of up to $5,000 are available for flood damage not covered by insurance, DeRusso said.
To determine eligibility, county residents can call a state hotline at 1-888-769-7243, or file an application online at



Bicycle rider dies after crash

Staff Reporter

A bicyclist who collided Monday with a car on Tompkins Street in Cortland died of head injuries last night.
Jason L. Hurlburt, 23, of Tompkins Street in Cortland died Tuesday night at University Hospital, according to city police.
Hurlburt was heading east on Tompkins Street when he collided with a vehicle turning to head west out of Time Warner Cable at 224 Tompkins St.
Police believe that Hurlburt was heading into the city of Cortland to visit a friend.
“He was biking on the shoulder, going against traffic, and he actually ran into the driver,” said Lt. Jon Gesin.
Hurlburt was not wearing a helmet, police said.
No tickets have been issued for the accident, which occurred at approximately 11 a.m. Monday. Police this morning were still working on an accident report and they would not release the name of the driver.
Safety along Tompkins Street has been an issue in recent years, with two fatal accidents along the street in 2005, and another in 2003.
Gesin said that this accident did not fit in with the previous incidents.
“This is a little different because before we were talking about pedestrians and their ability to cross the street,” he said. “It’s just a tragedy any time something like this happens.”
A handful of citizens were quick to assist Hurlburt, including the driver of the vehicle, Gesin said, but police are still looking for someone who actually witnessed the accident.
Anyone with information is asked to contact city police at (607) 753-3001.



School board reappoints president

The Cortland City Board of Education elected Tom Brown president during the board’s annual organizational meeting this morning. Brown has served as president since 2003 and has been on the board since 1999. This is his fourth term. No other nominations were received.
The six board members present voted for Brown; board member Lisa Hoeschele was absent.
For vice president, Mike Doughty nominated Donna Johnson, who has served on the board since 2004. Johnson nominated Christine Place, who has served on the board since 1993.
Board Clerk Carolyn Dorn said the board typically votes by paper ballot when more than one nomination is made.
“We do have an awkward situation here,” said Tom Brown, noting the vote could be split.
In the end, Place received five votes and Johnson one vote.
The board also approved other official appointments, such as tax collector. It appointed board members Lisa Hoeschele as the board’s legislative liaison and Paul Marshall as the alternate.
Newly elected board members Bonni Hodges and Paul Marshall were sworn in also.