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Soldier's Monument Series of Articles


These articles appeared in the Dayton Daily News May 14-17, 1946

From ‘Way Back When,’ Soldier Monument Locale

Provided Source of Discussion For Originators



Dayton Daily News   MAY 15, 1946


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a series of three background stories on the 61-year-old Soldiers’ Monument, hub of May 30 Memorial Day services at Main st. and Monument av.  New interest focused on the sentinel, dedicated to solders of all wars, with the recent announcement that a bus rerouting plan in the downtown area probably would mean its removal to another location.  The material in this series is from a variety of sources, with substantial help from the writings of John Tomlinson, a staff member of The Daily News for many years before his death.


     Lost in the anonymity of the musty archives of Ohio is a statute enacted April 8, 1881 by the State Legislature.

     It authorized county commissioners to submit to a vote of the people the question of levying a tax on all of the property on the tax duplicate for a fund:

     “Wherewith to erect a monument or other suitable memorial structure to perpetuate the memory of soldiers from said county who served in the Union Army during the late rebellion.”

     Thus was germinated an idea to materially preserve the memory of soldiers of the adolescent Montgomery county who fought for their country.

     Many died along the route to climactic Gettysburg; others succumbed to wounds in hospitals; the rest returned.

     To all, in unapportioned measure, the wide-set base and granite shaft surmounted by the marble figure of the Civil War soldier was dedicated in pomp and pageantry in three-day ceremonials concluding July 31, 1884.

     Succeeding installments of this series will describe the almost-forgotten incidents in the erection of the alleged traffic tangling Soldiers’ Monument on Main st., now dedicated to soldiers of all wars.

     ONE HISTORIC NOTE is this part of the preamble to the constitution and by-laws of Dayton’s Old Guard association, parent organization of the Old Guard post of the Grand Army of the Republic, at the time of its organization, Sept. 5, 1879:

     “To the memory of the soldiers of the rebellion who died and are buried in Montgomery county, Ohio.”

     Under terms of this law, the first monument built in the state was erected in this county, which therefore was the point of origin of the law to honor the memory of the state’s soldier sons.

     A petition from the Old guard association initiated the movement in Dayton, and on Sept. 6, 1881, the county commissioners resolved to direct the county sheriff to include a tax proposal for its erection in his proclamation for the next election.

     On the board of county commissioners at that time were George W. Purcell, Isaac J. Bassett and Lewis C. Kimmel.

     Voters approved the one-half mill levy against all of the taxable property in the county, and yellowing newspaper clippings report it as “the first decisive step in the building of a memorial.”

     THE CLERK OF COURTS certified an abstract on the vote to the commissioners, who acted as follows:

     “Resolved, That a monument be erected and that the junction of Water (now Monument av.) and Main sts. is hereby designated as the place for said monument and the auditor and prosecuting attorney are hereby ordered to confer with council as to the place.”

     Even at that time, location of the monument was embroiled in argument.  There were those who favored Cooper park, now Library park.  Others called for the intersection of Main and Warren sts., “where the members of the funeral cortege in the journey south to the cemeteries could see and constantly bear in mind the lesson and sentiment embodied in the memorial column.”

     The commissioner’s choice stood, however, and city council ratified the selection.  The levy was entered on the tax duplicate in the fall of 1882.  First collections were made in December and became available in February, 1883.

     A new board of commissioners in January invited plans, designs and specifications.  The board included: Isaac J. Bassett, George W. Purcell and Henry C. Marshall.

     SEVENTEEN BIDS were received in March.  Passing on them were the commissioners, trustees of Old Guard and Gen. T. J. Wood, G. C. Prugh, A. C. Fenner, J. C. Cline and Henry Kissinger.

     All were rejected at a session April 10 and a readvertisement was ordered, with proposals to be submitted May 22.  The cost was not to exceed $22,500.

     Fifteen bids came back this time, ranging from $21,200 to $27,000.  The winner, determined June 30, 1883, was J. W. Carpenter and Son of Dayton, builders of monuments and memorials, at a bid of $22,500.

     It might be said here parenthetically that a decade ago the cost of relocating the monument was estimated at $55,000.  Several weeks ago, during the latest discussion to move it, the price had advanced to around $90,000.

     The accepted design was of a figure representing the Goddess of Liberty at the top of a granite column.

     Dedication ceremonies were to be arranged by an executive committee of the Old Guard association.  Its members were C. M. Hassler, Henry Kissinger, John Hardy Jr., Charles E. Howell, E. D. Lyon, H. C. Eversole and J. J. St. Clarkson.

     In retrospect, Writer Tomlinson saw it as the “desire and the intention of the association to invest the dedication ceremonies with all the pomp and circumstance of a military event, and render it an epoch in the history of the county.”

     A citizens’ committee was formed at a meeting presided over by Hon. Lewis B. Gunckel.  It was instructed to act with the Old Guard delegation and became part of the general executive committee on arrangements.

     The membership was as follows:

     C. M. Hassler, chairman; J. J. St. Clarkson, secretary; J. K. McIntire, treasurer; Gen. Sam B. Smith, John Hardy Jr., E. M. Thresher, Henry Kissinger, H. J. Eversole, A. H. Willoughby, H. C. Kiefaber, E. B. Lyon, A. D. Wilt, A. C. Marshall, R. J. Cummin, Mike Nipgen and L. D. Reynolds.

     (Next: Selection of the soldier on the monument.)


A Memorable Selection

Daytonians Pick Soldier for Monument


Dayton Daily News    MAY 16, 1946


     No item of Dayton history is more intriguing than the selection of the Union private soldier who has commanded the vista of Main st., from atop the Soldiers’ Monument since 1884.

     An account of the selection in a special historical section of The Daily News in 1923, commemorating the landing at Dayton in 1796, was said to be the first “based on history and narrations of survivors who were active in securing the design.”

     As reported in the first installment of this series, a figure representative of the Goddess of Liberty was authorized initially.  The Carpenter firm had been awarded the contract and arranged for the marble figure to be purchased in Carrara, Italy.

     The Old Guard association protested vehemently, however, and passed a resolution requesting commissioners to substitute the Union private soldier.  It was contended every memorial to the warrior should be of his likeness or symbolize a deed in battle.

     The commission assented, if not too late to make the change.

     THE ITALIAN SCULPTOR was notified by cable, the Old Guard paying the $18.75 bill.  He responded quickly, asking that the soldier be selected immediately so modeling could begin.

     Two commissioners were named to make the choise, who was to be “some broad shouldered, military-looking private soldier who would meet the ideal of the heroic sentinel.”

     The quest was unavailing until the name of George Washington Fair, a bricklayer and an ex-Union soldier, was called.  The commissioners, C. M. Hassler and Henry Kissinger, hurried to his home on W. Fifth st.

     It was only after his wife’s aid was enlisted that Fair consented to pose for a photograph.  A quick visit to the governor of the soldiers’ home secured a No. 4 size uniform, the army’s largest issue.

     The commissioners rejoined Fair at the C. H. Miller photograph studio on Main st.

     Writer John Tomlinson described the ensuing events this way:

     “IT WAS A STEAMING hot day when Mr. Fair, wearing a heavy soldier’s overcoat, and accoutered with musket belt, scabbard and cartridge box, posed before the camera for four separate pictures: front, back and two side views.

     “The picture gallery was like a furnace room on that sweltering day, and the ordeal undergone by the soldier thus clad in heavy clothing as if for mountain picket duty in mid-winter was almost as trying as facing death on the battlefield

     “Like the good soldier he was, however, he faithfully performed the task.  Mr. Fair was a modest and unassuming gentleman and wholly indifferent to the notoriety or fame that would forever attach to his name by reason of the event.

     “It was without any concern on his part, therefore, but simply to accommodate the committee that he thus posed for a sculpture’s marble subject, which, when finally fashioned into seeming life and placed in its commanding position would be imperishable.

    “The sentinel is said to be a perfect likeness of him who thus typifies the Union private soldier.”

     GEORGE W. FAIR was a native Daytonian and the youngest of 13 children.  There were eight boys.  Three of the six sons in Union service were casualties.

     The parents were Charles and Elizabeth Fair.  The father was born in England of French descent.  He emigrated to America and settled near Patasco Falls, Md.  The mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Marr, was born in this country of English parents.

     The couple married at Hagerstown, Md., July 28, 1808, and moved to Dayton in 1823.  George W. Fair was born May 22, 1834.

     Foundation of the monument, built of Dayton stone, was completed Nov. 22, 1883.  The granite was quarried at Hallowell, Me.  The first four carloads arrived in Dayton April 19, 1884, the remainder late in May.

     The granite blocks were hauled by traction engines from the depot to the monument site.

     “The stones, it is claimed, that entered into the construction of the monument, are the largest in the world,” an old report declares.

     The stones were hoisted into position by two derricks, one towering 100 feet.

     ONE OF THE DIES holds a roster of the names of soldiers and sailors of Montgomery county.  The south die bears the legend: “The memorial of Montgomery county to her soldiers.”

     On the east die is written: “The republic rests upon the virtue, intelligence and patriotism of its citizens.”

     On the west die; “Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever.”

     The shaft reaches 85 feet to the base of the sentinel.

     The white marble statue left Leghorn, Italy, in the ship Alsatia, April 15, 1884, arrived in New York, May 27, and five days later reached Dayton.

     The statue was completed and shipped two weeks earlier than the contract time.  In the event it had not left Italy until the specified date it would have been shipped on a vessel which, when it left Leghorn, never again was reported.

     The Soldiers’ Monument had survived the first threat to its existence.  Others would follow.

     (Next: The statue is dedicated.)



But It Speaks On Forever”

Flowery Oratory And Stubborn Shroud

Highlighted Dedication Of Monument


Dayton Daily News MAY17, 1946


     Unveiling of the soldiers’ Monument on July 31, 1884, was highlighted by breath-taking oratorical and physical achievements.

     There was the stirring eloquence of the presentation address by Hon. George W. Houk, representing the county commissioners, and the dignity of the acceptance speech on behalf of the people by Gov. George H. Hoadley.

     The physical achievement was unplanned.  It developed when a volunteer steeple climber ascended the shaft to loosen a muslin veil on the marble statue that had become matted by rain.

     The heroic act was a dashing, denouement to the gala occasion.  If it had failed, the proceedings would have been a debacle.

     The historic dedication celebration began July 29 with a reunion of ex-war prisoners, greeted by Mayor John Bettelon.  Also at the reception were ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes, Gen. W. S. Rosencrans, U. S. Senator Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut and Gov. Hoadley.

     More than 100,000 people were on the streets the next day to view the Grand Army parade.

     THERE WAS A MOCK naval battle on the Great Miami river near the Main st. bridge, between forts on the north side and a fleet on the water.

     Military and civic societies participated in another spectacular street parade July 31 before unveiling ceremonies got under say at 2:30 p. m.  Hon. Samuel A. Graighead was master of ceremonies.

     The presentation of the statue was made by Mr. Houk, who said:

     “On behalf of the board of commissioners of Montgomery county, whose duty it was made by law to provide means by public taxation for the erection of this monument, to select its site and decide upon its design, I have been requested by them to now announce the fact of its satisfactory completion and formally to deliver to you, sir, who, as the highest official representative of our people in the sate, have been selected to receive it for the proper ceremonies of its dedication.

     “No method has ever been found more appropriate for the permanent expression of exalted sentiment than its embodiment in a monumental structure.  Its silent utterance is a language understood alike in all ages and by all races of men.

     “IT IS THE TRANSFIGURATION of live matter, by the spirit of man, into an ever living human thought, speaking from generation to generation down the ceaseless course of time.

     “Men may come and men may go, but it speaks on forever.”

     “I now request that you, sir, the governor of the state of Ohio, may unveil it in the presence of the majesty of this vast assembly of the people, that American patriotism and valor and manhood, shall stand forever, typified upon its summit in the sculptured image of a Union private soldier.”

     Gov. Hoadley responded:

     “It is accepted and will be preserved as a memorial and the pledge that the sacrifice shall never be forgotten; that the principles of law and muniments of government procured at its expense shall be forever maintained, and that if in the future, occasion call, the sons of Montgomery county and of the Union, will not be less prompt to renew the offering and zealous to sustain the cause, than they whose death we mourn and whose glory we celebrate here.”

     Gov Hoadley then reached for the rope that would release the white drapery around the statue.  His efforts were unsuccessful and groans of dismay echoed through the crowd.  Rain of the previous day had matted the shroud; attempts to untangle it only wrapped the figure more tightly.

     BUT THERE WAS SOMEONE in the audience able to rise literally to the need.  Elbowing to the front of the excited onlookers came Clarence E. Ward, a nationally known steeple climber.  He ascended the platform and offered to climb the monument and unveil the soldier.

     He was promptly commissioned and began the ascent to the accompaniment of tumultuous cheers.  With divided attention, spectators watched his progress and followed the remainder of the program.

     A history of the various military organizations originating in Montgomery county or in which her soldier sons served was presented by Col. E. Parrott of Dayton.

     He said in part:

     “ The Dayton Light Guards was the first company in the state to tender its services to the government under the President’s call for troops, and the first artillery offered him was the Washington gun squad of this city.

     “Estimating the population of the county in 1860 at 50,000, and one-fourth of the number capable of bearing arms, and at different times during the war, we furnished over 5000 men, counting the squirrel hunters, or in other words, one-half of our fighting population was at one time or another in the war against the rebellion.

     “The soldiers of this county were to be found in each of the staff departments and in every rank, from the general of the division down, in every army and on every line of operation.

     “They were first in the state to volunteer; they were engaged in the first pitched battle of the war; were present, when at last the Union heel was planted firmly on the bruised head of the great crime of the century.”

     Gen. Joseph R. Hawley, U. S. Senator from Connecticut, closed his oration with a rendition of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.