By Jon McGinty
Winnebago County’s Civil War statue, sometimes called the “Boy in Blue,” which currently stands guard by Veterans Memorial Circle at Main and Auburn, will soon have a new home. Thanks to a $251,900 grant from the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants program awarded in June, the statue will be removed, repaired and relocated to a new site on the east side of Veterans Memorial Hall, overlooking Wyman Street, by some time next year.
“The statue belongs to the county, and we want it back where it can be viewed easily and safely by the general public,” said Scott Lewandowski, manager at Memorial Hall. “This new site can potentially become a destination location for residents and tourists alike, over 20,000 of which already visit Memorial Hall each year.”
The statue was purchased in 1903 and installed as part of a fountain adorning the north entrance to the old courthouse on West State. It was removed in 1967 and stored at the county highway department while the new courthouse was constructed, then returned to the northeast entrance foyer in the new building in 1969. After suffering some vandalism, it was eventually enclosed in a glass case.
In 1984, as a collaborative effort by the Winnebago County Board, the Rockford Park District, Greenwood Cemetery and the North End Businessmen Association, the statue was moved to its present location. The pillar on which it stands once was part of the façade of the Carnegie Library on Wyman Street. Also, at that time, the remains of an unknown Civil War soldier, part of a collection of artifacts from Memorial Hall, were interred under the statue.
Last winter, the county hired a conservator to inspect and evaluate the statue’s condition before deciding on its final disposition. Andrzej Dajnowski, director of Conservation of Sculpture & Objects Studio in Forest Park, Illinois, examined the statue in January, and determined that it needs repair. Made of zinc plates soldered together over a framework, several cracks have appeared in its construction. It has been painted several times (it was once gray), the paint is deteriorating, and the zinc is corroded in several places. Some original parts are also missing, such as the rifle strap and coat buttons.
Dajnowski estimated the cost of dismantling, repairing and re-installing the statue to be around $49,000. Lewandowski said the cost of preparing the site at Memorial Hall will be about $98,000, which will include installing retaining walls, tablets, railings, benches and security systems.
Mary Ann Smith, secretary of the Greenwood Cemetery board of trustees, is among those concerned about what will become of the Auburn/Main site, once the statue is removed.
“The original pedestrian entrance to the cemetery was from that corner,” Smith said. “We have talked to Scott Sanders from the design firm retained by the city for the roundabout project, and asked him how we could make that an attractive entrance again. It seems to me that would be the most cost-effective thing to do. But we have no money in our budget for such a project now. We are currently raising money for restoration of the chapel.”
As for the remains buried under the statue, Smith said Greenwood Cemetery has offered to facilitate their removal and re-interment in the Civil War section of the cemetery, sometimes called the GAR plot. Logan Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a national fraternal organization that meets monthly at Memorial Hall, has also volunteered to officiate at such an event.
The other major stakeholder in the outcome at Main and Auburn is the City of Rockford, which, with the State of Illinois, has invested much time and treasure in creating what is now designated Veterans Memorial Circle. The finished roundabout now includes a barracks-size American flag in the center, with four metal plaques installed on low walls at each exterior corner of the intersection. Each plaque commemorates one of four eras of U.S. military history, from the American Revolution to the present and beyond.
According to City Administrator Jim Ryan, the design’s purpose is to honor all veterans from the area who served in the military throughout our country’s history, several of whom are buried in nearby Greenwood Cemetery.
“[The statue] is certainly the county’s property, and they have the authority to move it,” Ryan said. “I think Memorial Hall is a great place for the statue. I just hope that, when they move it, they replace it with something that is consistent with Veterans Memorial Circle, and what we tried to achieve there. Right now, we don’t have any dollars budgeted for that intersection beyond what we’ve already done.”
Lewandowski is seeking to convene a meeting among stakeholders — the city, county and cemetery — to discuss ideas and outcomes for the Auburn/Main site.
Lewandowski said, “While our immediate priority is to get the statue moved and repaired, we don’t intend to abandon the city’s design or the cemetery’s plans for that area.”
From the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014, issue