'Grand Army of the Republic Hall' in Aurora reopens on Memorial Day

It was a very special Memorial Day in west suburban Aurora, as the city re-opened a historic building that was built for veterans of the Civil War.

A marching band in Aurora's Memorial Day parade passed a building that had been a military memorial for 139 years. The 'Grand Army of the Republic Hall' was dedicated in 1877 and re-dedicated before Monday's parade.

"It's kind of a re-awakening of a building that's been sleeping for a very long time,” said museum designer Paul Bluestone.

Closed for the last 15 years and falling into disrepair, the Grand Army of the Republic Hall memorial has been brought back to life, all thanks to the work of volunteers and three and a half million dollars in donations.

It was built as a sacred space by and for veterans of the Civil War. It was a place where they could meet and remember.

The names of the Aurora men who served are inscribed on the walls. The last Aurora Civil War veteran, Daniel Wedge, died in 1947 on his 106th birthday.

"The other thing we would like to do is eventually open the hall for the veterans to use as they used to use it. So they can have their meetings here. They can commiserate. And they can feel the presence of all of the other veterans from all of these past years,” said curator Rena Church.

On exhibit are civil war items donated by Aurora area families and a display detailing the life of Day Elmore, who was an Aurora farm boy who joined the Union Army at 17 and was killed at 21.

"He's writing home to his brother and his family, and telling stories about what's going on, his fascinating journal. So we're using that to humanize the story here,” Bluestone said.

And the historic building almost didn't make it. In 1963, there were plans to tear it down and turn it into a parking lot.

“And some Korean War veterans said no you're not. They kept the hall running and they pretty much protected it,” Church said.
Among the first visitors Monday was Vietnam vet Gerald Hawk.

"I think it's a marvelous endeavor. And it really honors the servicemen in the Civil War, but it also honors all the servicemen subsequently,” Hawk said.