The 100-plus year old cannon that has spent the last few decades on the lawn at the American Legion has recently been restored and moved to a new site in Wessington Springs. The Willman-Fee Post #14 of the American Legion has negotiated a move to the Veterans’ Memorial on the lawn at the Jerauld County Courthouse. Legionnaires Jim Tapken (left) and Walter Borkowski (right) are shown with the big gun at the new location.
The old cannon was built in 1898 at the Watervalet Arsenal in Watervalet, NY. No one knows how or when the cannon came to Wessington Springs — possibly as part of a WPA (Workers Progress Administration) project in the 1930s, according to Walter Borkowski.
“We don’t know if the cannon ever saw war action,” he continued. But its importance as a significant reminder of the Jerauld County veterans who served in wars since WWI is remains as true today as it was in the year the cannon was first located here.
The cannon sat atop “Legion Hill” (see photo inside this issue) overlooking the Wessington Springs city park for many years. A stone memorial dedicates the cannon to the veterans who have served their country beginning from World War I and through the several wars to follow.
The cannon spent the next few decades at the American Legion guarding the town on a place that overlooked nearby South Gulch and the prairie to the east.
The Legion began a restoration project in October-2011 when they contacted the Watervdalet Arsenal to gather more information about the cannon.
The restoration included new wheels at a cost of $3,000 from “Hanson Wheels,” a specialty company north of Mitchell on Highway 37.
The metal carriage and barrel was stripped and painted its original gray color in hard enamel bringing the total cost to around $5,000.
Legion members did the moving and research to get the job done right.
Many local people and businesses took an interest in the restoration. The American Legion talked Brian VanBuren, of Wessington Springs, into doing the metal restoration that included disassembly, sand blasting, cleaning, painting and reassembly. Hub Kieser’s -81 Enterprises, on the north side of Wessington Springs, offered their facility for the restoration project.
Fred Knight donated sand, Jason Weber donated the use of a sand blaster, South Dakota Wheat Growers provided an appropriate air compressor.