The American Civil War Memorial pays tribute to the sacrifice made by citizens of Waterloo during the Civil War, and recognizes the soldiers from the North and the South who gave their lives in the conflict. The Memorial, designed by sculptor Pietro del Fabro of Princeton Junction, New Jersey, is located on Lock Island along the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, part of the Erie Canal System. The design incorporates the Memorial into the historic canal environment of Waterloo and provides a destination for visitors arriving from town, those hiking the recreational trails, and boaters cruising the inland waterway. The Memorial includes individual cenotaphs for each man from Waterloo who died in the Civil War and a North South Cenotaph recognizing all lives lost. The North South Cenotaph is constructed of stones sent from the 36 States which were in existence at the end of the Civil War. A Women's Cenotaph commemorates all the women who served during the war. The Unit Cenotaph lists the Regiments in which the men of Waterloo and Seneca County served and the Civil War battles they fought in.
The central feature of the Memorial is a marble star stone set in a cedar lined enclosure with a stone portal. A flame of remembrance burns in the portal opening. A stele on the western point of the island marks the site for travelers arriving by water. The Memorial has a flagpole carrying the United States flag of 1865. The flag, star stone and trees are illuminated at night.
The townspeople of Waterloo were involved in the creation of the Memorial. During the summer of 2007, residents worked together on the project, carving the limestone cenotaphs. The star stone is incised with 620 stars gilt with 23K gold. Each star represents 1,000 lives lost in the conflict. Using star drills, townspeople, visitors and reenactors worked with Pietro to create the stars. As part of the project, residents landscaped the Memorial with flower beds and lilac and cedar plantings.
The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865, New York Department, took ownership of the Memorial on August 25, 2009. The Daughters are active in all the affairs of the Memorial including arranging ceremonies at the site and giving tours.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day; it referred to the practice of decorating Civil War soldiers' tombs with bouquets of lilacs. In 1966, a resolution by the United States Congress and a proclamation by President Lyndon Johnson recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The American Civil War Memorial, dedicated on September 20, 2008, honors the fallen of the first Memorial Day, May 5, 1866.