The Olson Monument

Porter Olson Memorial

Originally Published in Historical Notes: The Newsletter of the Kendall County Historical Society, Volume 31, Number 1

By Elmer Dickson

Porter C. Olson, son of Ole Olson Hetletvedt and Sarah (Chamberlain) Olson, was born April 11, 1832 in Niagara Falls, NY. In America, Porter's father dropped the last name Hetletvedt" and was known as Ole Olson. His children also adopted this surname. Ole and Sarah had four children, sons Porter Chamberlain, Soren Luther, and James "Webster", and daughter Bertha A.

Upon arriving in America, Ole Olson stopped for a short period in western New York before immigrating to Newark where he purchased 80 acres of government land in section sixteen, Big Grove Township. The Olson family was the first Norwegian family to settle in Kendall County. Ole's farm was on both sides of the Millington-Newark Road on the northern edge of Newark. Their home was on the west side of the road and the first place north of the Newark elevator. Sarah died in their log cabin home about 1840. Shortly after Sarah s death Ole built a frame house on the site. It was here that he ran an underground railway station. The Olson home still stands today and if it could talk no doubt could tell many interesting tales. Ole died January 17, 1853.

Porter Olson was educated in Newark schools and later enrolled in Beloit College. When the Civil War broke out Porter was teaching school at the Lisbon Academy. As soon as he completed his teaching obligation he began to actively recruit and raise a company of men mainly from Newark, Nettle Creek, Mission and Northville Townships. When organized, the company was designated, Company F, Thirty-sixth (36th) Illinois Volunteer Infantry.  Porter was elected Captain and Company Commander. His brother Soren was a Corporal and his brother J. Webster a private in the same Company. Soren was eventually promoted to Second Lieutenant and was killed in action in the battle of Stone River, Tennessee. Webster was promoted to First Sergeant before his discharge September 22, 1864.

Approximately a year after Captain Olson entered the army he was replaced as Company Commander and assigned other regimental duties. In May 1863, 36thRegimental Commander, Colonel Silas Miller, was captured and confined in Libby Prison at Richmond, Virginia. Captain Olson was then promoted to Lt. Colonel and appointed Regimental Commander to replace Colonel Miller.

The 36th Regiment fought in many of the major battles of the Civil War and more than 700 of the regiment s men were killed or wounded in action. Lt. Colonel Olson was frequently in the thickest of the fight where he demonstrated cool courage even in the excitement of battle. He was always equal to the task assigned and frequently surpassed the expectations of his superiors. He was described as a modest and unassuming man who was kind and generous in his praise of others.

The battle of Franklin, Tennessee was fought November 30, 1864. The 36thRegiment was assigned the task of holding the road to delay General Hood's army from reaching Franklin until fortifications could be strengthened. When the defensive line at Franklin was ready, the 36thRegiment  pulled back to reinforce the line. Showing no regard for his own life or safety, Colonel Olson moved up and down the line preparing his men for the coming battle with words of cheer and encouragement. Shortly after the Confederate attack began, Colonel Olson was struck by a musket ball, which passed through his body near his heart. He fell immediately but upon falling asked Lieutenant Hall of Company E to take him to the rear. Lt. Hall and Sergeant Yarnell of Company G carried him to the back of a brick house, which stood a few yards behind the fortifications. Upon reaching the relative safety of the house, Sergeant Yarnell wrenched a shutter off the house, which was used as a stretcher. With shot and shell falling all around them they carried their mortally wounded commander to an ambulance. On November 30, 1864, while in a semiconscious state he feebly whispered, "O help me Lord" and died.

Porter's brother Soren had been killed in the battle of Stone River. His brother Webster had been discharged two months earlier on September 22, 1864 and returned to Newark. Upon hearing of Porter's death, Webster arranged to have Porter's body returned to Newark where he was buried in an unmarked grave in Millington-Newark Cemetery.

After the war ended and soldiers came home, Porter's surviving companions of the 36th Illinois Infantry Regiment felt he deserved a suitable monument and began work toward that goal. Minutes of the sixth annual reunion of the 36th Regiment held October 3, 1872 recorded a discussion of the matter. The minutes indicated $77.50 had been subscribed toward a monument and the group Treasurer, Capt. Albert M. Hobbs, had received $45.50 of the amount pledged. Some of those in attendance suggested the Board of Supervisors of Kendall County be asked to contribute $100 of taxpayer's money toward the monument. A committee, consisting of one member from each company in the regiment, was formed to solicit subscriptions from others in their respective companies. Milton E. Cornell of Yorkville was elected Treasurer and a collection was made from those present to go toward the cost of the monument.

At the September 1879 reunion of the 36thRegiment held at Sandwich, the subject of a monument for Colonel Olson came up again. A committee was formed to meet with Kendall County Supervisors to request an appropriation from the county to place a monument to Olson on the courthouse square in Yorkville. John Marshall, editor of the Kendall County Record, suggested the Village of Yorkville purchase land across the street north of the courthouse and the monument be erected there. The ultimate objective was to terrace the ground, plant trees, and make other improvements for a village park.

It was initially felt that $1,000 would be needed to complete the monument and residents of Kendall County were solicited for contributions.  When a joint meeting of the Kendall County Supervisors and the Olson Monument Committee was held April 17, 1880, only $700 had been raised. In view of the large deficit it was uncertain whether they should proceed further. Some of the townships contributed more than expected while others had contributed very little. It was decided to go forward and make a thorough canvas of each township with the goal of raising at least $100 in each. Plans were made to proceed with the design and erection of a monument to assure contributors the project would be completed.

In May 1880, a contract for construction of the monument was let to the firm of Meager, Bolduc & McGuire of Aurora.  A round ball, representing a cannon ball, was to be placed on top of a twenty-four foot shaft of Tennessee Marble with an eagle perched on top of the ball. The image of an American flag was to be placed beneath the ball on the front side of the monument. The contract called for the inscription "Colonel Olson, 36th ILL Infantry beneath the flag.  "Erected 1880" was to be inscribed near the base. The names of all Kendall County soldiers and sailors who died during the war, a total of 265 men, were to be inscribed on the rear and sides of the monument. Completion and erection of the monument in Yorkville was to be completed by September 23, 1880 to coincide with the annual reunion of the 36thIllinois Infantry. The cost was to be $1,500 but the firm agreed to contribute $100 to the project reducing the cost to the Committee to $1,400. Apparently the Committee was unable to raise the necessary funds as the foregoing plans fell through.

Several years passed before the monument became a reality. When the memorial began to take form, no family members remained in the area. Porter s parents and his brother Soren L. were deceased. His brother J. Webster had moved to Williamsburg, Kansas. He later moved to Santa Rosa, California where he spent the remainder of his life. Porter s sister Bertha had married William Shaver and moved to Trenton Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin.

In September 1882, a dedication ceremony was held and a modified monument to Porter C. Olson put in place. A major change was elimination of the names of those who died during the war. In addition, the monument was not erected in Yorkville as originally planned but was placed on Colonel Olson's grave in Millington-Newark Cemetery.

So much time had passed since Colonel Olson's death people were uncertain where he was buried. Those involved in the project wanted the monument to be placed on the correct grave. At least three separate places were thought to be possible burial sites. One site seemed to have more support than others did, so those investigating proceeded to open the grave and coffin within. The first grave opened settled the matter. Colonel Olson's remains were found in an excellent state of presentation and were easily identified insuring that the monument would be placed in the correct location. 

On the front of the monument, OLSON is inscribed near the base. Above this is the inscription "COL. PORTER C. OLSON, BORN AT NIAGARA FALLS, N. Y., APR 11, 1832. KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN, TENN. NOV 30, 1864" The south side of the monument is inscribed, "ENLISTED IN THE U. S. VOL. INF. SERVICE AUG. 1861. MUSTERED IN AS CAPT. OF CO. F, 36TH ILL. VOL'S. SEPT. 1861. PROMOTED TO LIEUT. COLONEL OF THE REG. MAY 11, 1863." The north side is inscribed, "THIS MONUMENT ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF COL. P. C. OLSON BY THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE 36TH REG'T. DEDICATED SEPT. 21, 1882."

The Olson monument's stately presence has graced the Millington-Newark Cemetery for 120 years, a silent and fitting memorial to Porter C. Olson, citizen soldier.

Porter Olson Memorial


Last Modified on 2012-12-30 16:51:29-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson