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Spanish American War memorial offers glimpse into local history
By Allen Rich
Aug 24, 2021
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Editor's note: Special thanks to Malinda Allison and Fannin County Museum of History for information and photographs relating to a local Spanish American War memorial.

Fannin County, Texas -- As Fannin County Commissioners Court deliberates where to place a Spanish American War memorial that had been on the southwest corner of the courthouse grounds prior to restoration of the 1888 courthouse, the story of the memorial provides a glimpse into local history. 

Erected in 1898 and originally placed on a corner of Bonham Wholesale Grocery by Bonham businessman Sam Howard, the memorial is a tribute to U.S. Navy victories at Manila and Santiago de Cuba and local men who served during the conflict.

Bonham Wholesale Grocery would later become Gross Feed Store and the building was located on the north side of West 1st Street where Pro Auto is now located. 

Bonham Wholesale Grocery

There were more than 100 volunteers from Fannin County who served in the Spanish American War.

Photograph taken in 1900 of Spanish American War veterans. The two story house on the right rear is the V. A. Ewing House on the corner of Chestnut and 6th Street in Bonham

The engraving proclaims: IN HONOR OF THE VICTORIES OF THE AMERICAN NAVY OVER THE SPANISH NAVY AT MANILA MAY 1 1899 UNDER DEWEY AND SANTIAGO DE CUBA JULY 8 1898 UNDER SAMPSON AND SCHLEY.

The marker carries an engraving of the Battleship Maine, which was sunk in the Havana harbor to ignite the war.

Evidently, Admiral George Dewey was impressed when he received a photograph of the memorial because he wrote a letter to Mr. Howard.

United States Naval Force on Asiatic Station

Manila, P. I.

December 24, 1898

Mr. S.B. Howard,

Manager,

Bonham Wholesale Grocery Co.

Dear Sir:

I am just in receipt of a copy of your letter of October 29th. to the Navy Department, enclosing four photos of the memorial stone placed in a corner of your building in honor of the American victories over the Spanish Navy, and I beg to acknowledge the receipt of one of the photographs.

On behalf of myself and the officers and men of my fleet I wish to tender our sincerest thanks for this splendid testimonial that you have erected in appreciation of our efforts during the past year.

The tablet is indeed a very handsome one and I am very much obliged for the photograph.

Yours very truly, George Dewey

Admiral George Dewey
 

According to an article in the Bonham Daily Favorite, the marker was "buried under a layer of concrete in the early 1950s when the Gross brothers - Barney and Earl - purchased the building."

It was rediscovered in 1964 when workers were cleaning up after a fire destroyed the building on August 8, 1964.

When workers chipped away at the layer of concrete, the memorial emerged unscathed. Earl Gross cleaned and preserved the marker until Jimmie Wiggins bought the building in 1970 and gave the monument to the Fannin County Historical Survey Committee.

Mrs. Dwight Hackley, a member of the Fannin County Historical Survey Committee, is credited with the idea of preserving the memorial and placing it on the courthouse grounds for all to see.

A ceremony 45 years ago marked the occasion when the tribute to local volunteers who served in the Spanish American War was placed on the southwest corner of the Fannin County Courthouse grounds.

While the courthouse is being restored, the Spanish American War memorial has been stored indoors where it is being painstakingly restored by Jay Minton. Mr. Minton is concerned about deterioration of the stone marker if it is placed outside and he has asked commissioners court if it could be placed inside the courthouse.