Historical War Cannon Scrapped: “Looking Back”

Note: In September, 1942, as the United States was mobilizing for World War II, several campaigns were launched to help support the war effort. One of those campaigns was to collect all usable scrap iron. This story (which I have paraphrased) appeared in the September 3, 1942 edition of the Log Cabin Weekly newspaper:

Mrs. Ida Baridon Frauenthal, wife of Joseph Frauenthal, donated a Civil War cannon to the scrap iron campaign today. The gift of this prized relic was prompted by a recent appeal by President Franklin Roosevelt who urged that pieces of artillery, statues, etc. be scrapped. He promised that they would be replaced by relics of the present war after its end.

The four-inch iron cannon had been in Conway virtually ever since the town was established nearly three-quarters of a century ago. The cannon belonged to Colonel Asa P. Robinson, a Civil War veteran and the engineer who founded Conway. Mrs. Frauenthal, his niece who lived with him for several years, inherited the cannon as part of his estate after he passed away in 1898. His only son and only child had died years before him so she was the closed living relative.

The Frauenthals knew very little about the history of the cannon. They think it was donated to Colonel Robinson as a token for his services in the federal government during and after the War Between the States and was sent to him after he established his home in Conway in the early 1870s. It stood on his lawn for decades.

The 1000-pound piece of artillery had stood on the lawn of Mr. and Mrs. Frauenthal since their marriage in 1900. When they built their new 5,000 square-foot house on Western Avenue in 1913, the cannon was installed on the lawn there. Their new house stood on the site of the former three-story home of Governor George Donaghey which had burned a few years earlier.

The Frauenthals had no children so their estate, including the 20-room house, was bought by Elbert L. Faucett after Mrs. Frauenthal’s death in 1947. The house, with its large-columned porch and elaborate staircase, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently owned by Conway Regional.
According to Mrs. Frauenthal, the only time the cannon was ever fired after it came into Colonel Robinson’s possession was at a celebration of the election of Grover Cleveland as President of the United States in 1892. Mr. Frauenthal, assisted by a number of other ardent young Democrats, surreptitiously removed the cannon from Col. Robinson’s lawn and hauled it to the public square. All night it thundered as fast as they could reload it and fire again.

Mr. Frauenthal related that the South responded to the 1892 Cleveland election with great enthusiasm. He believed that Cleveland’s meteoric rise to the presidency had resulted in the greatest show of enthusiasm the South had ever displayed. Cleveland had risen from assistant district attorney to sheriff of Erie County, New York in 1870. He then became mayor of Buffalo, New York before being elected Governor of New York in 1882. Two years later, Cleveland became President of the United States for the first time.

Cleveland was defeated by Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 election after serving only one term. He came back to oppose Harrison in 1892. His re-election and defeat of Harrison in 1892 made him the only president in U.S. history elected to two non-consecutive terms.

Four years after the 1892 election, enthusiastic local Republicans planned to use the cannon again to celebrate the election of Republican William McKinley. They even had Colonel Robinson’s permission as he was a Republican. Unfortunately, a group of unhappy Democrats drove a “rat-tail” file into the small powder hole. The gun could have exploded if anyone had attempted to fire it.

And so, after decades of sitting on Col Robinson’s lawn and then the Frauenthal’s lawn, the Civil War cannon would be called into service once again in 1942. Ed Halter, county chairman of the salvage campaign, with Street Foreman Adolph Favre and a crew of city employees, hauled the old cannon to the salvage collection lot on Van Ronkle Street. A piece of Conway’s history went with it.

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