LITCHFIELD (AP) -- The old saw that the best place to hide a treasure is right in plain sight proved itself true in Litchfield for almost 85 years.
Ever since 1915, two Civil War era howitzers stood guard outside of Litchfield's historic Grand Army of the Republic Hall. They were part of the scenery for so long, most people never paid any attention to them.
The cannons have since been moved indoors, and now people are talking.
They should be. The cannons and the fort-like building that holds them ''should be a tourist attraction for this area,'' according to Warren McQuay, a member of the GAR Hall board of directors and the community's postmaster.
He was also the town's leading metal salvager for a while, all part of the effort to preserve and protect this community's unique ties to Civil War history. McQuay spent countless evenings stripping the brass from discarded water meters in Litchfield.
''Tons of them,'' laughed McQuay, who tore apart the city water meters by the pallet load.
The brass he stripped from the old meters has since been forged and turned into exact replicas of the 1861 and 1863 cannons.
These exact replicas will soon replace the originals in serving guard duty outside the historic building. Inside, visitors will be able to examine the originals.
Collectors of Civil War memorabilia will recognize the two cannons as valuable artifacts. The number of surviving Civil War era cannons is limited.
Both cannons were cast of bronze, unlike the brass being used for their replicas. The replicas will not be working models.
The authentic, bronze cannons were used to fire a single 12-pound ball or loads of smaller balls, known as grapeshot, totaling the same weight.
By moving the two originals indoors, the GAR Hall's directors reduce the risk of theft or vandalism to them. Also, the cannons will be more easily appreciated by visitors to the hall.
Their presence inside might also lure more visitors into the hall. It is one of perhaps only two original GAR Halls still surviving in the country.
Built in 1885, the hall served as the meeting place for Civil War veterans in the Litchfield area. The original chairs these veterans occupied during their meetings remain today as they were in 1885. The somber images of the men stare down from photographs on the wall.
While the inside still looks as it should, the outside of the GAR Hall isn't quite right without the two cannons guarding the entrance. That's why McQuay has devoted all of those hours to stripping brass from water meters, and board members set about collecting funds for the replica project.
To date they've raised about $4,000, but need to raise much more. The directors are purchasing two replica carriages for the cannons at $4,500 a piece, and must cover the cost of forging the replica barrels.
The city of Litchfield, Meeker County and local veterans organizations have been ''super'' in helping support the effort, according to McQuay.
He said it's likely the hall will hold a rededication event for the cannons this summer. It will feature a Civil War reenactment as a fund raiser. Participants will be able to hear and feel the violent bark of Civil War artillery, and view the fire and smoke that trailed their deadly discharges.
McQuay said the GAR Hall directors are in the process of researching the history of the two cannons. It's not known how the hall acquired them, but the cannons are numbered and it should be possible to track their records, he said.
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