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Hingham Town Hall campus renaming runs into opposition

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  December 2, 2013 04:56 PM

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Plans to rename Hingham Town Hall campus after Congressional Medal of Honor winner Herbert L. Foss have run into opposition, with some locals wary of the potential change.

Selectmen will take a vote on a potential renaming in December, with any final recommendation to go to Town Meeting. Yet already there is controversy.

“Some folks don’t want to do anything for anything, and some people who think Foss, maybe he deserves a tombstone, but nothing of any consequence,” said Jim Claypoole, chair of the Foss Naming Committee and Hingham Veterans Council. “I think they are a vocal minority, but we’re attempting to pursue the matter and go forward with it.”

Plans have been ongoing since 2012, when Claypoole approached town officials about the fact that Foss, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the Navy in the Spanish American War, was not recognized in Hingham in any way.

Born in Maine, Foss lived in Hingham for several decades and died in 1937.

A committee was subsequently formed to find a proper memorial for the historic figure, and in August, Hingham Selectmen accepted a proposal to rename Town Hall in his honor.

Plans have since been slightly altered, with hopes to rename the Town Hall Plaza - which includes Town Hall, the Police Station, Senior Center, and Cronin Field – to the Herbert L. Foss Municipal Center.

The selectmen and Historical Commission will both need to vote on the proposal prior to seeking approval at Town Meeting.

Yet to local historian Alexander Macmillan, the issue needs more study.

Macmillan asserted that Hingham has two Medal of Honor recipients – Foss and Wilmon W. Blackmar, a Pennsylvania man given recognition in the Civil War. Blackmar later married in to the famous Hingham Brewer family, and spend summers residing at World’s End Farm.

“My point was if the rationale for naming something after Foss was he was Hingham’s only Congressional Medal of Honor winner, that rationale was flawed,” Macmillan said.

However Claypoole doesn’t consider Blackmar to be a Hingham resident, as he only summered in town.

Macmillan also pointed out several other noted veterans who died in the service of their country, and wondered if Hingham landmarks should be named after them.

“Maybe it needs a bit more study,” Macmillan said. “If there is something that should be named for Herbert Foss or Wilmon Blackmar, or other veterans who served and died in the many wars we’ve had, we need to think it through carefully and not go charging ahead with this proposal that came from a flawed assumption in the beginning.”

Macmillan referenced others who have concerns, including Tom Carey, who chaired the committee for the new Hingham Town Hall. Macmillan said Carey’s research showed that there was no tradition for naming Town Halls in other cities or towns.

"There are some opposing points of view. There's conseus about recognizing [Foss] somehow, but the concern is how to do it," said Selectman Bruce Rabuffo.

Rabuffo noted that the hearing is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 19.

Though Rabuffo was intent on recognizing Foss in some way, the information regarding Blackmar might mean more recognitions are needed. That too will be discussed, Rabuffo said.

Despite the push back and confusion, Claypoole said he’s optimistic for the Selectmen’s vote.

“We think that’s an accomplishment that’s quite significant. In Weymouth they named all their elementary schools after Medal of Honor winners…O’Hare airport is named after a Medal of Honor winner. All types of landmarks and public facilities in the country…it’s time for Hingham to recognize Herbert Foss,” he said.

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