Although it was razed in 2006, the small two-story building that stood on the corner of Seventh and Seminary streets, directly across from the public library, played an important part in local history. Although it was known as the GAR Hall and remaining members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a postwar organization for Union Civil War veterans, met there, it was principally the meeting place for local veterans of the Spanish-American War.
America’s brief war with Spain began in late April 1898, initially over the goal of Cuban independence and as a result of the sinking if the American battleship USS “Maine” in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15. The war ended on July 17, with the surrender of the Spanish Caribbean fleet, less than three months after it began.
On the evening of March 26, 1902, a group of 26 veterans of the Spanish-American War gathered for a meeting at the Vincennes City Hall at Fourth and Main streets to organize the Charles D. McCoy Camp, No. 28, a postwar veteran’s fraternal organization. The name honored 1st Lt. Charles D. McCoy of Co. A, 159th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers. McCoy, a Harrison Township native, died of typhoid fever on Oct. 9, 1898, at the rural Knox County home of his father-in-law, while on a 30-day furlough. He was only 28 years old. The majority of those organizing the camp had served in either Company A or Company L of the 159th, and McCoy had been popular with the men. Company L was made up chiefly of Vincennes University students, who did not see action in the war. Thomas Coulter was elected Camp Commander.
While the first meetings were held at City Hall, the men would later use the GAR Hall located upstairs in the building on the corner of Seventh and Broadway streets across from the courthouse. Additional veterans would join in the weeks after the camp was established.
In 1924, the Charles D. McCoy Camp bought and remodeled the building, constructed circa 1900, on the corner of Seventh and Seminary streets. The remaining rapidly dwindling number of Knox County Civil War veterans also met there, and as noted, the building would actually be known as the GAR Hall, a mark of respect from the younger men toward their older brethren. The last local Civil War veteran, Alexander Bowen, died in 1941.
The local camp flourished and from June 14-16, 1936, Vincennes hosted the 37th Annual Encampment, United Spanish War Veterans, Department of Indiana. Veterans and their auxiliaries from all across the state descended on the city. It was estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 people attended, an exceptionally large number attributed to the fact that the encampment coincided with the June 14 dedication of the George Rogers Clark Memorial. Business meetings, a parade, a banquet, a play, and a ball were all part of activities.
Time naturally took its toll on the number of Spanish-American War veterans, as well. By 1954, only about 28 of the camp’s veterans survived and some of those men were in ill health. That year, the GAR Hall was put up for sale. Afterwards, a social hall was still located there, and in later years the building was converted into apartments.
On Veterans Day 1962, only seven local Spanish-American War veterans were still living. By 1965, Charles Bartholomai was the last such veteran remaining in Knox County. He had lied about his age in order to join the Navy in 1898 and was only 14 years old when he enlisted. Bartholomai died at Jeffersonville at the age of 83 on Jan. 14, 1967. He and his wife had moved there to be with their son. His remains were returned to Vincennes for burial in Greenlawn Cemetery.
Brian Spangle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published last year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.