For years many of us thought there was a cannon in front of Dunkin’ Donuts pointing toward downtown Rockland.

We were a little off the mark, so to speak.

What we really have is a Parrott rifle.

It was invented by Captain Robert Parker Parrott, a West Point graduate. He created his first one in 1860 and received a patent for them in 1861. They were used extensively throughout the Civil War from 1861 — 1865.

Parrott rifles were made of cast iron (accurate but brittle) with a band of wrought iron around the breach for added strength. Our version was cast in 1864 at the West Point foundry and was a 1 to 4.2 inch model. It was one of more than 12,000 such rifles donated by the U.S. Government between 1872 and 1916. They were to be “Silent Sentinels” standing tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers and sailors who served the Union cause. As of 1999, Rockland’s Parrott rifle was one of 5,467 estimated to remain. Many were devoured in scrap metal drives during the world wars.

According to Rodger Beverage, Commander of the Maine Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Parrott rifles were capable of shooting a 60-pound solid ball 1,200 yards. That is 10 football fields. By my estimation, if the round was fired from the rifle’s location at Ralph Ulmer Park it would travel the length of Main Street and land near the Civil War Monument at Chapman Park.

The dedication ceremony was held on August 20th of 1904. The rifle was placed on a granite base erected by the Davis Tillson Command of the Union Veterans Union. On the Main Street side, an inscription reads simply: “In memory of the soldiers and sailors of Rockland who gave their lives for their country.”

Accounts from the June 18, 1912 Courier-Gazette estimate 1,000 spectators were in attendance.

Civil War history is far back in time. We have no living links to it. You cannot ask a great grandparent about it. It lives instead in books, monuments and thankfully in newspapers like our Courier-Gazette.

Civil War history is in abundance here in Rockland: The flagpole and the pair of siege howitzers located at Chapman Park downtown. A monument to Davis Tillson’s militia camp that was relocated to the American Legion on Limerock Street. You can lay your hands on them; a tangible connection to that time.

We are most fortunate to have the Rockland Historical Society as the caretaker of the Grand Army of The Republic Collection. The G.A.R. was the veteran’s group of the Civil War. This collection is nestled safely in the basement of the Rockland Public Library. You can see for yourself photographs, uniforms, swords and guns in proper display cases. It is open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Ann Morris is the cheerful and knowledgeable host.

History is like a good bourbon.

It is ready to be experienced in its own time. As a young person I was not as interested as I am these days. As a new generation grows older, our monuments serve to guide the way as they discover pieces of Rockland History.

Rockland’s big gun. Photo by Glenn Billington

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.