Civil War-era cannon gets a fresh look in Methuen

Greater Lawrence Technical School
Greater Lawrence Technical School
The cannon, bought by Civil War veterans to remind thepublic of their sacrifice, had fallen into disrepair.

A 19th-century cannon that had fallen into disrepair as it sat outside the Quinn Building on Hampshire Street for several decades in Methuen has been refurbished and will be unveiled Thursday, the Methuen Historical Society said.

After concerns arose over the canon’s deteriorating state — the wooden wheels had rotted and its barrel was pitted, becoming green and moldy — the restoration project was undertaken by students at the Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, with full support from the mayor as well as the historical society, said Denis Webster-Greene, president of the Methuen Historical Society.

“There has certainly been resurgence in care and restoration of Methuen’s history,” Webster-Greene said. “I’m just thrilled. If we don’t take care of things now, it won’t go into the future.”

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The cannon is a 12-pounder bronze gun, referred to as a Napoleon, and it dates back to about 1840, Webster-Greene said. It is unknown whether this particular gun was used in the Civil War.

The restoration is being used as a teaching tool for 11th- and 12th-grade students at the Greater Lawrence school, who received the cannon in the spring from the city and just finished restoration efforts after the summer break, said Heidi Riccio, director of career technical education at the school.

“This cannon project was a fabulous opportunity for our students to learn about history in such an applied way,” Riccio said. “The project was a multi-disciplinary effort with the programs of carpentry, metal fabrication, automotive collision, and social studies taking part.”

The cannon was purchased in 1880 by Henry Coffin Nevins, of the prominent Nevins family in Methuen, along with other members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ group. The members pulled together $250 to purchase the gun, Webster-Greene said.

Since the cannon was a popular field artillery piece in the Civil War, the club thought it would be a great piece for their organization, and to represent the 600 Methuen residents who served in the war, Webster-Greene said. The group had also decided that if the organization were to disband, the ownership of the gun would be transferred to the Methuen Fire Department.

“It ended up at the fire department for a period of time, and then moved to the American Legion Post 122 on Broadway where it stayed until just before 1970,” Webster-Greene said of the weapon’s locations over time. “It actually ended up going full circle; the Quinn Building was the former Nevins estate.”

Many different companies, including Doyle Lumber and White Street Paint, have donated materials to the restoration. Lee Sawyer of Jaffrey, N.H., refinished the spokes and Sheehan’s Towing transported the cannon from the Quinn Building to the school, where the work was done.

The cannon will be on display at an open house in the Automotive Collision career area at the school from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The cannon will also be fired, using a safe alternative to actual explosives, on the open land in the back of the school, Riccio said.

The gun will then be moved to a permanent location inside the Searles Building, where the city’s government offices are located, on Pleasant Street in Methuen.