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Our History: Reinstate Civil War memorial at Bayside’s Dermody Square

To read these words of the famed justice at a time when we recall the deeds of fallen heroes reminded me of a memorial that should be of interest to our community but seems to be forgotten.

In the past people around the world observed a time of remembering similar to ours. We Americans have always continued a custom almost as old as time itself: honoring the dead.

Yearly we have celebrated, for example, Armed Forces Day, National Maritime Day and Memorial Day — times to pause, reflect and honor those who served our country.

I am thinking today of one site in Bayside that has had a long history of ceremony to honor the deeds of one of our early heroes. He has not been forgotten, but the ceremony which had been a community tradition for more than 30 years has not been held for the last several years.

Such plans should be easy to reinstate and may indeed be of interest again. Though not a similar event to those of the past, one was successfully held by the Bayside Hills Civic Association this year whose president, Michael Feiner, is open to hearing from those who would like to discuss the matter.

The memorial of which I speak is a small triangular park at 48th Avenue and 216th Street: Dermody Square.

After the Civil War, in 1866 Mrs. James O’Donnell set aside that portion of her family’s farm in honor of her brother, Capt. William Dermody. The Dermody family had emigrated from Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 1800s. Dermody operated a stage coach line in Bayside.

An ardent abolitionist, he left his home in Bayside and his business to join the 67th Regiment, Long Island Volunteers. He attained the rank of captain Nov. 21, 1862. His regiment was attached to the Army of the Potomac, which saw major action in Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and the Wilderness Campaign. Unfortunately, Dermody was mortally wounded during the attack on the “Bloody Angle” May 12, 1864, in the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va. He was the first Baysider to die in the war.

A small two-room schoolhouse stood on the plot Dermody’s sister wished to have set aside in his honor and a group of citizens in 1866 met in the school and held a memorial ceremony. At the time two trees were planted in the square: a maple tree to represent the North and a sycamore to represent the South, symbolizing the hope for a better Union.

In later years the school was moved near Bell Boulevard and 46th Avenue, the predecessor of present day PS 31. As the years went by the trees which had been planted failed to flourish and their symbolism was forgotten.

The records of the park and its history were recovered by then-city Public Works Commissioner John J. Halleran and in 1935 a group of public-spirited Baysiders decided to rededicate the forgotten site and plant new trees. The huge boulder which marked the spot was unveiled and inscribed and the children of PS 31 took part in a pageant that preceded the ceremony.

Years passed and the memorial became vandalized. In 1973 the Bayside Historical Society decided to restore the memorial. It purchased a bronze plaque in cooperation with Dermody’s relatives, the Bayside Hills Civic Association and the Catholic War Veterans of St. Robert Bellarmine Church.

A dedication ceremony was held by the society with its founder and president, Joseph Brown, presiding. From that time on until some years ago, the society held an annual ceremony at the site.

The legend on the Dermody memorial plaque read:

“1830 Captain William C. Dermody, 1864

“Died in action at Spotsylvania, Virginia during the Civil War. This plot then part of the James O’Donnell farm was set aside in 1866 by Mrs. James O’Donnell as a memorial to her brother, Captain Dermody, and named Dermody Square in his honor. The boulder was unveiled during rededication in 1935.”

I do not know if plans are being made to replace the missing legend, but Capt. Dermody’s name is also engraved on the Civil War monument on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. He is buried in his family’s grave site at Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing.

Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and freelance writer.

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