So why are some people calling for Confederate statues and monuments to be removed, and who really owns them in this area?
The question about the men in stone and bronze who stand on courthouse lawns and other places in New Castle, Salem and Roanoke County is in the forefront right now because Virginia’s Gov. Terry McCauliff has called on local governments to remove the statues and move them to museums or other locations. That came after violent demonstrations and a death of a young woman protesting in Charlottesville about the possible removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The question of political correctness aside, does Roanoke County or Craig County have the right to relocate the statues, even if local elected officials decide they want to do that?
State law code says memorials should not be bothered. For now, local elected leaders and county administrators are staying out of the fray.
In Craig County, where the Confederate statue holds a place of pride on the front lawn of the courthouse on Main Street, nobody has raised the idea of removing the figure, according to Jesse Spence, Chairman of the Craig County Board of Supervisors.
“Not to my knowledge is anybody here talking about it,” said Spence. “Personally, I’m opposed to removing any memorial for soldiers from World War II, Vietnam, the War Between the States and others,” he said.
“I feel like it’s the same as any war memorial,” he added, referring to the Confederate soldier who has been guarding New Castle from his vantage point for over 100 years.
Spence’s dad, Phil Spence, looks back toward to the memorial from his store, The Emporium, on the other side of Main Street, where he has sold Confederate battle flags when he could get them. He’s a history buff, who feels strongly about that today’s citizens should learn from the past.
“I haven’t heard one person around here saying the statue should be taken down,” Phil Spence said, “but I’ve heard from a lot of people who want it to stay. I’m a little distraught about the lack of knowledge of these people who want to have the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville removed.
“Lee served in the United States Army for 32 years before the Confederacy was formed,” he continued. “He couldn’t bring himself to fight against his home state and so he took the command of the Confederate Army. He deserves to be honored. Doesn’t any of that count for anything?”
Phil Spence pointed out that “in Craig County, the War between the States was not something that happened a long time ago. There are people whose great, great-grandfathers and others fought in the Confederate Army for Virginia. One of them, the Aikens, had a cousin who was the flag bearer at Gettysburg. There were three units made up of Craig County men who served in the 28th Virginia,” he added. And that flag is the only one which has not been returned, he reminded.
“What people who want to take down the statues today are doing is not going to fix the problem. It’s going to make it worse…The statue on the Craig County Courthouse lawn has been there at least 100 years and it’s never been a problem until now,” Phil Spence concluded.
In Roanoke County, the county administrator says he has not heard anyone call for removal of the Salem statue nor of the one at Hanging Rock Battlefield by the Fincastle Rifles Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The latter statue is a generic soldier, as most are, but originally was in honor of Private Jones of Lynchburg, a cook, who was an early supporter of Randolph Macon College, now Randolph College in Lynchburg. It previously was located in front of the Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg.
As in Salem, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money and erected the Confederate soldier statue in New Castle. The Salem statue is actually on corner of land owned by Roanoke County, deeded to the county when Roanoke College bought the old Courthouse building.
None of the members of the Southern Cross Chapter of the UDC in Salem were alive in 1909 when the statue was put up on the corner of what today is College Avenue and East Main Street, but member Avis Hunt researched the way the ladies of that day raised money for the statue.
Hunt could not be reached by press time, but member Dolores Smith of Salem read details from Hunt’s paper on the subject and recalled other history of the time.
“In 1860-1861 that whole area belonged to Roanoke County. When things started developing and it looked like war was imminent, Abraham Hupp set up a table and enlisted men into what became the Salem Flying Artillery who served until Appomattox surrender,” she said.
“When that was over, the United Daughters of the Confederacy that were founded in the early 1900s wanted to honor those men. One was for men over 35 and young boys; the idea of the monument spread in the chapter. Don’ know who, but it might have been Miss Rose Edwards, the president, wanted to honor her father and his friends who left to serve. Many did not come back.
“They thought it was their duty to erect a monument as was being done across the South. They had ice cream suppers…can you imagine what their kitchens smelled like, all those good things that were cooking for those dinners?”
“In Woody Middleton’s book, he has the price of what it cost to raise that monument. That monument has stood all these 100 years, and its anniversary was marked with a celebration by the Southern Cross Chapter in 2010.
“The chapter had designed that monument, placed on that exact spot where Mr. Hupp had enlisted these men,” Smith said. “That property was never deeded to the UDC, Southern Cross Chapter. We went on people’s word. We went on for years and years honoring these men who served from Roanoke County.
When unveiled it there were ribbons from the top of the monument, a dozen women pulling on the cloth, Smith said. A black man climbed up and untangled it, she added.
Elmer Hodges gave her a copy when he was Roanoke County Administrator, she said. The plot of land where the statue is has the following conditions: That it is on the National Registry of Historic Places, and that the county gave the Southern Cross Chapter the right to egress, to paint and to take care of the monument.”
Perhaps ironically, the funds to care for the statue are donated by the Commonwealth of Virginia by the Department of Historic Resources, as part of the care of statues and graves and markers, which the Southern Cross chapter has done.