This Old Town: Happy 100th Birthday, American Legion

American Legion Post (1954-1969) on Pleasant Street. Photo courtesy of the American Legion.

In 1919, following World War I, the American Legion was founded by veterans returning from Europe. Their mission was to benefit those veterans who served during any wartime.

The actual beginnings of the American Legion began with a group of 20 officers who served in France in the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) during World War I; they are credited with planning the Legion. The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic, mutual-help war-time veteran’s organization. The American Legion became a community-service organization which now numbers over 2 ½ million members – men and women – there are nearly 15,000 American Legion Posts worldwide, although due to the aging of our WWII and Korean War veterans, those numbers are now declining.

Here in Medfield, led by WWI veteran William J. Kelly, the first American Legion Post was formed and Kelly became the Post’s first Commander. Meetings were held in Town Hall, with the Post being nameless for several years. Shortly thereafter, the American Legion Auxiliary was formed, which added a new dimension to the Legion. On February 15, 1923, the Medfield Post was officially established as “Beckwith Post 110.” It was named after the two Beckwith boys, Wesley and William, both of whom lost their lives during WWI, dying just seven months apart.

Beckwith Post #110 had an official home when town meeting voted permission for the Legion members to use Town Hall as their Post. Legion meetings and functions took place upstairs in Town Hall from 1919 to 1953. During this time period, the Legion ran field day activities, which were held at Metacomet Park off Pleasant Street and open to all in the town. In 1954, the Legion purchased the old three-story Grange Hall, located on Pleasant Street next to Metacomet Park, where the Medfield Garden Condominium complex is located today. Moving out of Town Hall, they now had a home of their own. The Pleasant Street building had been used by the Grange since 1912. From 1954 until 1969, regular Legion meetings and functions were held at Grange Hall. The original building (seen in the photo) was a cow barn and moved from its Park Street location on rollers and with horses. It was rolled across what is now Pleasant Court to its location next to Metacomet Park. When the cellar hole was to be dug, contractor Alphonso Allen insisted that the cellar be dug 18 feet in depth, due to a particular slant of the land. He had a long stick with which he measured the depth of the hole. However, the “diggers” with aching backs thought differently of the depth required, and when Allen was not around, removed a few inches off the stick every day. The cellar was completed to the satisfaction of Allen, who judged by his stick, and to the satisfaction of the diggers, who judged by their aching backs. Or so the legend goes.

On December 22, 1969, the building was torched by arson and burned to the ground. Civil War firearms, Post records and valuable memorabilia were all destroyed. The Legion was now without a home, but thanks to the generosity of Legion member Bob McCarthy, the family’s restaurant, The Colonial Inn on Main Street (now the block with Donut Express), became the temporary home of the Legion.

In 1970, the Legion purchased 2.5 acres of land on what had been Grove Street and designed and built the currently closed facility that included a large function hall, kitchen, member’s lounge, commander’s office, conference room and storage space. In 1974, when the new Route 27 was built and bisected Grove Street, it gave the Legion the opportunity to rename their roadway. It was named Peter Kristof Way in honor and memory of Medfield High School graduate Peter Kristof, who was killed in Vietnam.

American Legion Beckwith Post # 110 leading the Memorial Day Parade down Main Street. Photo courtesy of Medfield Historical Society.

American Legion Beckwith Post # 110 leading the Memorial Day Parade down Main Street. Photo courtesy of Medfield Historical Society.

In 1996, the Sons of the Legion formed, injecting youth and vitality into the Medfield Veteran organization. Familiar town names rang out from the plaques mounted on the Legion’s “Distinguished Honor Wall,” including John Ross, Fred Vasaturo, Al Cruickshank, Paul Curran, Jim Tubridy, Clayton Haigh, George Nourse, John Connors, Donald Mailing, Gerry Doucette, Lee DeSorgher, Mel Mills, Lindsey Ripley, Jerry Underwood, Tom Copithorne and Ed Callow, among others.

Since 1919, the Legion and its members have played an important part in the life of the Town of Medfield. They supported and participated, en masse, in the Memorial Day parade and ceremonies and fed lunch to all parade marchers. They supported Veterans’ Day ceremonies in Baxter Park, the Christmas party for Medfield’s senior citizens, Christmas with Santa for Medfield youth, sponsorship of Medfield High School juniors to attend Boys’ State and by the Auxiliary, to attend Girls’ State, the Toys for Tots program, high school scholarships, the Medfield Fishing Derby, sponsorship of Legion baseball and softball teams, monetary donations and support to the war memorials at Baxter Park and to other town organizations, and sponsorship of Boy Scout Troup 89.

Over the past 100 years, many stories and events have involved Beckwith Post #110. The following random newspaper clippings are found in the Legion files at the Medfield Historical Society: “In 1921 a bi-plane show was held during the Legion’s Field Day activities. However, one of the pilots lost control of his plane and came crashing into the chimney of Alfred Wardon’s house at 78 Spring Street.”

“Band Concert and Community Service Days” were held throughout the 1920s and on November 11, 1923, it included a reading of a proclamation by Governor Channing Cox and an address by famed author Edward H. Cotton. Costume parties and fundraisers were held in the Pleasant Street structure during the 1950s, with one particular party remembered when the crowd, while dancing the bunny hop, caused the entire building to actually sway with the dancers.

In 1962, the Legion voted to co-sponsor a Medfield Little League team. In 1963, more than 300 children received candy and gifts from Santa Claus at a party given by the Child Welfare Committee of Beckwith Post. And in 1965, Beckwith Post #110, by unanimous vote, went on record to protest the demonstrators who burnt their draft cards as disapproval of United States action in Vietnam. In 1967, a $400 scholarship was presented to Medfield High School senior Robert Capers and in 1968, Clayton Haigh, commander of the Post, urged all post members to drive with their headlights turned on to show support of the fighting men in Vietnam. In 1973, spaghetti suppers were held at the Legion Hall - the cost was $5 per person. In 1975 “Life Membership to the Auxiliary” was awarded to long-time members Grace Donlan, Ann Donlan and Ann Chick, and in 1977, the awarding of “life membership in the American Legion” went to Alan Kingsbury for serving 21 years as finance officer, 21 years as historian and 20 years as trustee of the American Legion. In 1978, Santa arrived at the annual Legion Christmas party by helicopter, despite 40 MPH winds that made it difficult to land, to greet over 250 children. In 1979, the American Legion Auxiliary installed its new officers, including President Myrtle Mills, Sr. Vice President Betty Hinkley, Vice President Edna Hinkley, Jr., Secretary Priscilla Beckwith, Treasurer Elizabeth Sweeney, and Chaplain Martha Welch. In 1985, Legion member Al Cruickshank was appointed to serve as chairperson for the Lifesaver Campaign to help needy children, and in 1986, the Legion purchased a POW-MIA flag for the Medfield Town Hall to mark the nation’s first day of remembrance for American prisoners of war and missing in action. Veteran Agent Paul Curran declared “the new flag will be raised daily, along with the American flag, until every POW and MIA is returned home.” In 1993, the post was granted approval from the town and the Massachusetts Lottery Commission to offer keno and Mass Lottery sales. In 1997, Dan Callahan’s hustle, combined with Matt Lomax’s eight strikeouts and complete game, gave the Medfield Legion baseball team a 4-2 victory over Weymouth. And in 2000, the Legion sponsored “Las Vegas Night, Gambling Just for the Fun,” with all revenues going to the Legion scholarship fund.

One hundred years after its founding, Beckwith Post # 110 has a long history of caring care for our veterans, helping with community activities and standing for and represent the ideals members gave a part of their lives defending.

Thank you, American Legion - thank you, Beckwith Post 110!

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