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Competing plaques of Town Line’s 1861 secession renews a rift

Many local historians know the story about Town Line – how residents of the hamlet on the Lancaster-Alden town line voted 80 to 45 to secede from the United States in 1861, and how it did not vote to rejoin the Union for another 85 years.

A historical marker mounted on a boulder in front of Town Line Lutheran Church in Alden tells that story. It was placed there by the Alden Historical Society and paid with donations from community members, as a curious local footnote to the Civil War.

But now it seems a small rift has popped up within the hamlet, which has a population of about 2,000.

Another plaque is scheduled to be placed next month on Town Line Road, about 100 yards away from the first one, telling the same story. This marker is funded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Order of the Southern Cross and United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Even though a local couple helped plan the new plaque and dedication, some locals are uncomfortable. It is not a major rift, but still, it waits to be seen how many locals will be present when the plaque is dedicated the weekend of July 26-27.

“We were a bit uncomfortable with the sponsorship – the Sons of the Confederacy,” explained Gilbert Dussault, president of the Alden Historical Society, who was invited to participate. “By a unanimous vote, we decided not to take part in the event. Individually, no one wanted to participate because of the Confederacy connection. There were many brave men and women on both sides who fought and died for their cause. They were courageous. They were brave. But personally, the Confederacy stood for something that I don’t think was right.”

Meanwhile, a representative from the Lancaster Historical Society will be present.

“We’re supporting the dedication of the plaque,” said Karl Schurkus, society president. “We have quite a bit of history of the Town Line secession, especially when they rejoined the Union.”

The new plaque will sit atop a steel post anchored in cement, located outside Blair’s Hardware & Plumbing in Lancaster.

It will be presented to Bryce and Lisa Blair, the third generation of Blairs to own the store.

Performing the honors will be Curtis Early of Willowick, Ohio, a great-great-great-grandnephew of Confederate Lt. General Jubal A. Early.

Curtis Early is a 25-year member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of Ohio, and he is passionate about Civil War history. That’s how he came to meet the Blairs last year, after his computer research showed “Town Line” popping up when he typed in “Civil War secession.”

So when Curtis Early and his wife, Gloria, traveled to Niagara Falls last fall to celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, they made a side trip the Blairs’ hardware store, where Lisa Blair keeps a small corner filled with items and documents related to the secession of 1861.

“We got to talking,” Early said during a phone interview. “Town Line was special.”

And when he returned to Ohio, where he is treasurer of the General James Longstreet Camp, Early applied for and received a $1,000 grant from the Society of the Order of the Southern Cross to jump-start the fund drive for the 55-pound historical marker for Town Line.

“I’m all for history,” said Early, a retired school administrator. “I want to get the true history out.”

Back in Town Line, Lisa Blair is all about local history, collecting enough memorabilia on the secession to fill one corner of the hardware store she calls a museum.

“It used to be one little shelf,” she said. “But every time a customer comes in, they walk once around to see what’s new.”

Her favorite: an original “Truman’s Square (Deal)” sign. It was Truman who played a role in Town Line’s vote to re-enter the Union in 1946, when he responded to a reporter writing a story on the 85-year secession.

The president suggested Town Line have a barbecue and decide among themselves whether to seek readmission, though, truth be told, neither the North nor the South recognized Town Line’s secession back in 1861.

It also should be noted that the reasons for the secession vote in 1861 are not clear.

Some accounts attributed it to anti-militaristic and anti-conscription sentiment among German immigrants.

Other accounts suggest that anti-war Democrats swayed the secession vote, though Abraham Lincoln won Town Line by a small margin in the 1860 election.

Events to mark the unveiling of the second marker run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 26 and include a re-enactment along Town Line Road, according to Lisa. The store museum also will be open.

After Sunday morning services at Town Line Lutheran Church – sometime between noon and 1 p.m. July 27 – the latest Town Line secession plaque will be unveiled.

Lisa said she considered the two plaques a symbolic unification.

“I think it’s kind of a neat thing,” she said. “We all are aware there are two sides to every story. The Northerners raised funds, and so did the Southerners. It’s time to forget all the rivalries, especially when we’re coming to the conclusionary years of the Civil War anniversary.”