R'ville in the Past Lane

Nearly a century old, but doughboy’s message of patriotism is timeless

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun The doughboy statue, whose base is inscribed with the names of 15 township men who served during World War I, was dedicated in 1920 on a plot of land along Route 33 donated by Civil War veteran John Yard of Robbinsville.

Photo by Joanne Degnan/The Sun
The doughboy statue, whose base is inscribed with the names of 15 township men who served during World War I, was dedicated in 1920 on a plot of land along Route 33 donated by Civil War veteran John Yard of Robbinsville.

For nearly 100 years, he has stood at attention at Route 33 and Main Street, a silent sentinel paying tribute to 15 local World War I soldiers who “laid aside their vocation to fight in the Great War for freedom and humanity.” If he once had an official name, it’s been lost to the march of time. Today, locals simply call him the doughboy statue.

Robbinsville and the rest of the nation recently observed Memorial Day to honor and remember the veterans who have served this country in all its wars. The doughboy statue at one of our town’s busiest intersections is a daily reminder of the sacrifices members of the U.S. Armed Forces have made to keep us free.

Militarily speaking, the term “doughboy” predates the Pillsbury advertising icon from the 1960s that popularized the term. A doughboy at the turn of the 20th century was a member of the U.S. Army or Marines. One theory says the “doughboys” got their name because their uniform buttons looked liked bits of raised dough. Another says they were called doughboys because the pipe given to enlisted men left a white powder on their uniforms when they polished it or wiped it on their clothes. Some have traced the term to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, when the soldiers fought on dusty battlefields that left them coated with a white power that looked like baker’s flour. Whatever the reason, the name doughboy stuck and soldiers from WWI are forever known by this name.

In 1919, township resident and Civil War veteran John Yard donated the land for the 17-foot WWI memorial. Made of cement, our doughboy is one of four statues in the state that were cast in this manner. He stands atop a 10-foot-tall square pedestal inscribed with the names of 15 men from then Washington Township who served in “the Great War,” later called WWI. (In 25 years, the reverse side of the monument’s base would be inscribed to honor township residents who served in WWII, with special tribute to two men “who made the supreme sacrifice”:  J. Stephen Scheideler and Chester S. Erbe, who were both killed in 1944).

Photo by Joanne Degnan/The Sun The 93-year-old doughboy statue is now missing a chunk of his helmet.

Photo by J. Degnan/The Sun
The 93-year-old doughboy statue is now missing a chunk of his helmet.

The unveiling of the WWI doughboy statue on Oct. 16, 1920 was a huge event in then Washington Township, which changed its name to Robbinsville in 2008. A parade that included soldiers and veterans, a Red Cross delegation, schoolchildren, and many citizens was held in town. According to the Trenton Evening Times, there were more than 1,000 people in attendance – quite a turnout when you consider the entire population of the township, according to the 1920 U.S. Census, was only 1,161.

Speeches were made by the Rev. C.P. Newton, past of Gethsemane Baptist Church of Trenton, and Father John Walsh of St. John’s Church in Allentown, both of whom served overseas as chaplains in WWI and spoke of the need of monetary bonuses for the returning veterans to help them start their civilian lives. After the unveiling, a chicken dinner was served to 500 people at the “chapel,” the newspaper says. (This was probably the church located across from Ernie’s Tavern.) An open air dance, also part of the ceremonies, was called off due to rain.

An old photo in the township’s centennial celebration brochure shows the statue with Dempsey’s Store and the fire bell behind it. A story told me by Kathleen Sturgeon was how her grandfather, owner of Dempsey’s, proudly raised the American flag every day near the statue.

Photo by Joanne Degnan/The Sun The names of the 15 township residents who fought in World War I are inscribed on the monument's base

Photo by J. Degnan/The Sun
The names of the 15 township residents who fought in World War I are inscribed on the base of the monument that was erected in 1920.

He was recognized for his time-honored commitment to the flag and statue and was presented a proclamation for it.

Often, when I am presenting the history of the township to my class of third-graders, the students get excited when they see a photo of the doughboy statue and say, “I know where that is!” This is quickly followed by a litany of stories about their lives and where they happened to be going when they passed the popular WWI landmark.

So the next time you’re stopped at the traffic light at Main Street and Route 33, take a moment and really look at the 93-year-old statue, now missing a chunk of his helmet, and think of all the changes he has witnessed over the last century. And thank him for the liberties we have because of those who served.

An inscription added to the reverse side of the WWI monument honors two township men killed in Germany and Italy in World War II.

Photo by J. Degnan/The Sun      An inscription added to the reverse side of the WWI monument honors two township men killed in Germany and Italy in World War II.

 

 

About Cathy Zahn

Columnist Cathy Zahn is a genealogy expert and third-grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School. She can be contacted at caseywilkz@aol.com. | View all posts by Cathy Zahn


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