WATERTOWN — This year marks the centennial of the formation of American Legion Post 61 in Watertown.
In July 1959, Post 61, established in 1919, dedicated its new building at 138 Sterling St. in the city. The legion’s former site was at Washington and Clinton streets, current site of Best Western and Savory Downtown.
Cary R. Brick came across some records about the history of Post 61. Mr. Brick spent 30 years in the Northern New York Congressional office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as a chief of staff. He’s also a retired municipal court judge and now splits his time between Clayton and Sugar Land, Texas.
Mr. Brick’s father, Arch J. Brick, was a World War II-era post commander and in 1949, was commander of Army and Navy Post 61. That year, as chairman of the posts’ building committee, he negotiated the relocation of the post with Joseph Capone, owner and developer of the hotel and its carriage house.
The local American legion unit was formed July 31, 1919, with the name Watertown Legion post. In 1926, this title was changed to Army & Navy Post 61. The Facebook page of the post notes it was founded Nov. 23, 1926.
Before moving, the post had its headquarters at the former Herring mansion, which began as the stone house of Olney Pearce in the early 1800s. It was “elaborated on” and became the mansion of banker George F. Paddock, and was further enlarged and improved by William P. Herring. It was used as a USO club in the World War II era and later became the American Legion club rooms.
The original hotel at the site, 312 Washington St., was called Carriage House Motor Inn. The original mansion’s carriage house became the inn’s restaurant and lounge, now the Savory.
The new site of Post 61 had been the location of the old Watertown High School.
Arch J. Brick enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II, served as a communications officer and was honorably discharged as a corporal. He became a successful city merchant and civic leader and died in 1988 at the age of 76.
According to the official program from the July 11, 1959 dedication of the Sterling Street building, Post 61 had its beginnings as a small gathering of veterans of World War I who felt the need for a permanent fraternity of men from this locality who served in the Army, Navy or Marines. The first meeting was held in the basement of the armory on Arsenal Street in 1919. Later, meetings were held in the Taylor home across the street. Next, the post moved around to a few more places, including the old Smith building (which would become the Mohican site) and the Powers block on the west side of lower Washington Street. It also met at State Street and Sherman Street locations.
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. The idea for it originated with Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the 26th U.S. president, when he was in service in France.
Post 61 became a charter member of the national organization. Lowville Post 162 is also one of the American Legion’s original charters.
In March 1919, the Times ran a story that noted the aspirations of the new organization:
It “seeks to be to the veterans of 1917 and 1918 what the Grand Army of the Republic was and is to the veterans of the Civil War. It is entirely fitting, proper and desirable that there be such an organization.”
The organization should be distinct from the Grand Army of the Republic, the report noted.
“The GAR represents one war, the American Legion another. Let the sentiment of the one stand distinct and alone.”
In 1959, at the dedication of the Sterling Street post, state commander Arnold E. Swanson spoke.
“This building must be more than a social place to gather,” Mr. Swanson said at the dedication ceremony. “It must be a place where the program to which the American Legion is dedicated is followed.”