The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, built in 1892, is an historic building located at 401 Railroad Street in Ironton, Ohio. Designed by noted Ohio architect Joseph W. Yost in the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture, it was built to serve as a Grand Army of the Republic memorial and the meeting hall of Dick Lambert Post No. 165 of the GAR.
It later served as the meeting hall of the now long-defunct American Legion Post No. 59 as well as the Ironton city hall. After being abandoned by the city, American Legion Post No. 433 undertook the task of restoring the long neglected veteran’s memorial. On September 19, 2012, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On May 28, 2014, demolition of the building began.
Click Here for a YouTube video of the Memorial Hall building in 2010, prior to demolition.
Memorial Hall, designed by Yost and Packard Architectural firm of Columbus, was constructed for $20,000 to honor Civil War veterans. It was dedicated on September 22, 1892 1 to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Women’s Relief Corps, American Expeditionary Forces and the Spanish-American War soldiers. The original deed from 1889 stated that the building could be used only for Union soldiers, their widows and orphans, and that it would contain a library and be a place for “relics of a patriotic nature.”
In 1905, a fire burned most of the structure that left only the front stone facade and tower, taking with it the Briggs Public Library. The building was soon rebuilt and used solely as a library. Memorial Hall also suffered from the Ohio River floods of 1913 and 1933 but no major damage was reported.
After the library moved out in the 1960’s, Memorial Hall was reused as the Ironton city jail and city hall until 1996. A deteriorating roof, floor joist, and stairs led to its closure.
A strong thunderstorm on August 16, 2007 damaged the front entrance framing of Memorial Hall after a sudden drop in barometric pressure caused a vortex to form inside the building. An assessment report from E.L. Robinson was not promising. The report stated that while the exterior framing was in great condition, the inside was in “dire shape.”
The two recommendations given to the City Council included a tear-down or restoration, estimated to cost $200,000 and $7.7 million, respectively. A third option would be to gut the building and to erect a steel structure on the outside to keep the building standing as a monument, estimated to cost $500,000.
The interior would require complete removal because of structural concerns. The building would also need to be abated for asbestos and lead paint. The city pursued grants for further structural assessment.
A town hall meeting hosted by Mayor Rich Blankenship on June 24, 2008 allowed citizens and architects to voice their opinion regarding the future of Memorial Hall. Architects Walker and Associates presented a plan to demolish the interior of the structure, install steel bracing for support and convert the building site into a park with a stage at a cost of $240,000. The bracing would also be load-bearing so that in the future floors could be re-installed.
One citizen proposed a bed and breakfast and offices, although the costs was estimated at $3 million to $4 million, making such a proposal economically unfeasible.
On November 24, representatives from American Legion Post 433 stated that they would join other veterans groups in an attempt to rebuild Memorial Hall. The Post sought the support of other local veterans groups, hosting the the Memorial Hall Festival on August 15, 2009. The Post formed the Veterans Memorial Hall Restoration Fund, a nonprofit founded for the purpose of the building’s restoration.
The Post had hoped to receive a grant from the federal government for $2.4 million. In order to obtain the grant, the non-profit would have had to own the building. The city had planned to transfer the building to the Ironton Port Authority, who would have then transferred it to the non-profit if it could raise $500,000 towards the restoration within two years. Unfortunately, the groups were only able to raise $20,000 and gave up their private fundraising efforts.
A detailed structural assessment of Memorial Hall was conducted on May 6, 2011. It was recommended that Memorial Hall be demolished because restoration costs could be as high as $8 million. A tear down would cost $250,000.
In early 2012, the mayor approached county commissioners about the possibility of transferring ownership of the building from the city to the county. Possible reuse potential included a countywide emergency operations center for dispatchers and emergency medical services. The county had applied for a $1 million Homeland Security grant in 2011 for that specific purpose but did not receive it.
In early 2014, the city engineer estimated that the cost of partially demolishing Memorial Hall was $118,000. When bids were opened, none were received. A second round of bidding also produced no results. On the third attempt, two bids were received for $127,000 and $158,000.
Demolition of Memorial Hall began in early June by Southern Ohio Salvage.