Historic Stonington weaponry returns to Cannon Square

Eugene Cornell, left, and Brain Cooper from Deschenes & Cooper Architectural Millwork guide a cannon barrel onto its carriage as they reinstall historic artillery pieces in Cannon Square in Stonington Borough on Tuesday.
Eugene Cornell, left, and Brain Cooper from Deschenes & Cooper Architectural Millwork guide a cannon barrel onto its carriage as they reinstall historic artillery pieces in Cannon Square in Stonington Borough on Tuesday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Stonington - Pointing out toward Stonington Point, they look just as ready as they did 196 years ago.

After a nearly two-year restoration, the two cannons that borough residents used to fend off a British naval attack during the battle of Stonington in August 1814 were put back in place Tuesday morning in Cannon Square.

A crowd gathered around the square just before 9 a.m. and applauded as workers from Deschenes & Cooper Architectural Millwork in Pawcatuck used a crane to lower the restored carriages onto two platforms, followed by the 2,200-pound cannons.

"The planning and execution of this project actually lasted longer than the War of 1812," quipped borough Warden Donald Maranell as he watched the cannons being lowered into place. "So to see them coming back is exciting for the community and those involved."

Deschenes & Cooper restored the wooden carriages, an Amish firm rebuilt the wheels, and the cannons themselves were sent to Texas A&M University, where the corrosion was removed. The black cannons and brown carriages were also repainted, had their tubes filled with wax and then capped with bronze plugs.

The approximately $70,000 project was funded mostly by the Stonington Village Improvement Association with a $20,000 grant from the state and $10,000 from the borough. The project also included reseeding the square, installing new concrete platforms for the cannons and a handicapped walkway. A bollard-style railing is also scheduled to be installed.

A rededication ceremony has been slated for Aug. 14, just before the Stonington Historical Society's annual celebration of the Battle of Stonington.

During a four-day period in August 1814, residents used the cannons to successfully defend the town against five British ships that bombarded the borough, damaging many of the homes there.

The British attacked because they believed borough residents had supplied torpedoes that were used against their fleet. Residents refused to surrender, and the British, who lost four men in the battle, finally left.

Restoring the square was a controversial topic as residents debated lowering the level of the square, how many trees should be included, and other aspects of the work.

"There was a spirited public debate on this project throughout the whole process," Maranell said. "But that's just a reflection of the emotion people have for the cannons, and it shows that the spirit of our community in the War of 1812 still exists."

Brian Cooper, the president of Deschenes & Cooper, said his company built a set of jacks that were installed to help keep the weight of the cannons off the carriages and their wooden-spoked wheels. He said high-tech finishes and epoxies were used on the cannons and carriages to preserve them.

"We'll all be gone,"' Cooper said when asked when similar work will be needed again.

As a history buff, Cooper said it was a thrill for him to work on the project as the brave villagers squaring off against the mighty British Navy was a David and Goliath contest.

"Having them in the shop, every customer who came in with a kid wanted to know about them," he said about the cannons and carriages.

Borough resident Bob Abramson, who served as the project manager, said he hopes a maintenance fund can be established to care for the square and the cannons in the future.

With work on the square almost competed, Maranell said the borough will now turn its attention toward the bicentennial celebration of the battle in 2014. He said he hopes to be able to lure the president of the United States to the ceremony.

j.wojtas@theday.com

THE GUNS ARE BACK IN TOWN

WHAT: Cannon rededication

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010

TIME: 3:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Cannon Square, Stonington Borough

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