GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
MEMORIAL HALL AND MUSEUM
The island, which was owned and operated by J.D. McAuliffe from 1872, was hailed as a shady retreat for pleasure seekers Ö with a fine collection of animals and a museum of rare specimens. In 1897, Eaton Rapids bought it for a city park. The island was much larger in the earlier days; it extended almost to the bridge on State Street and one could take carriage rides around the perimeter of the island. The zoo on the island held animals native to Michigan, including bears, deer, raccoons, etc.
Entrance to GAR Island Park 1915
In 1908, the Eaton Rapids James B. Brainerd Post 111 of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) requested City Council that the Island be made in suitable condition for the annual encampment of the Eaton County Battalion of the G.A.R. (see G.A.R. Island Park Photographs). The Eaton County Battalion was composed of 10 G.A.R. Posts in Eaton County and 1 G.A.R. Post in Calhoun County and was headquartered in Eaton Rapids at the James B. Brainerd GAR Post #111 G.A.R. building. In 1909, the city agreed, named the island G.A.R. Island Park, and the G.A.R. Battalion erected a tent city on the Island for one week every August until 1929 when there were too few veterans to carry on and the encampment was discontinued. The G.A.R. was a fraternal veteransí organization of Union Civil War veterans that existed from 1866 - 1956. Over 10,000 G.A.R. Posts existed in the county (461 in Michigan alone) with a membership of just under 500,000. The Eaton County Battalion and the James Brainerd Post 111 existed from 1883 - 1929.
Two Civil War era cannons, which had been donated by the U.S. Government to the Brainerd G.A.R. Post 111 for placement in Eaton Rapidsí Rose Hill Cemetery, were moved to the island and dedicated to serve as Silent Sentinels in tribute to all those who served in the Civil War. The cannon were manufactured at the West Point Foundry in West Point, New York. The large cannon on the south end of the island was cast in 1862; has a 6.4-inch bore, and is a 100-pounder Parrett Rifle. The cannon on the north end is a 4.2-inch bore Parrett Rifle that fired a 30-pound solid shot. In 1915, the G.A.R. Monument to Our Fallen Heroes 1861-1865 was moved to G.A.R. Island Park from its former place in Rose Hill Cemetery. The monument was cut from Vermont granite and was purchased in 1893 by the James B. Brainerd Womenís Relief Corps 38 at a cost of $400. Summer concerts, reunions, and picnics brought many visitors to G.A.R. Island Park over the years. A group formed in 1973 to save the island from erosion served to refocus attention on this spot. Many weddings have been held on G.A.R. Island Park and it becomes the Island of Lights at Christmas time.
Located less than a block away from G.A.R. Island Park is Michiganís G.A.R. Memorial Hall and Museum. The museum is located downtown next to the library in the original James B. Brainerd G.A.R. Post #111 1886-built meeting hall. The museum consists of two floors containing information about and memorabilia from the G.A.R. in Eaton Rapids, Eaton County, Michigan, and the United States. Michiganís G.A.R. Memorial Hall and Mueums is open the first two Wednesdays of each month, patriotic holidays, special city-wide festivals, and by appointment. In keeping with the historical significance of the G.A.R. Island Park. Michiganís G.A.R. Memorial Hall and Mueums currently hosts a Memorial Day Program in May, a Civil War Living History on July 4th, and a day-long Civil War Discovery Camp in August on G.A.R. Island Park each year for children 8 - 14 years old.