In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven winning projects over the next several weeks. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.
We often focus on the many challenges to historic buildings in Boston, particularly in this period of rapid development where we see neighborhoods changing before our eyes. With that rapid evolution occurring so quickly it becomes harder to see the deterioration that occurs over longer periods of time: the wearing impact of weather, the buildup of corrosion, or the compounded impact of defacement and vandalism. It’s easy to forget that bronze sculptures weren’t intended to be green. With so many historic monuments in the city deciding how to focus limited fundsis not always straight forward. One would think a large, prominent memorial in one of the most popular spots in Boston would always be kept in pristine condition, but that hasn’t been the case. The Flagstaff Hill and Soldiers’ and Sailors’ had slowly fallen into disrepair withdamage so severe that some questioned how it could be restored.
Located prominently on the highest point in Boston Common and dedicated in 1877 to commemorate American Civil War veterans., one would hope that keeping it in good condition would be a given, but the losses had become severe until this challenging project was undertaken.
The origins of the monument date back 150 years to the close of the Civil War. Mr. Willis Clement initiated the discussion of constructing of a monument to honor fallen Civil War soldiers and sailors on March 8th, 1866. Nationally prominent sculptor Martin Milmore was selected to design and construct the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Born in Ireland, he immigrated to Boston at age seven became a well-known sculptor with seveal prominent works in the area as well as a bust of Senator Charles Sumner in the US Senate. (Sadly he died at 38 and more well-known-today sculptor Daniel Chester French created a memorial for him and his broher, sculptor Joseph Milmore.) This monument was dedicated on September 17th, 1877. It consistesof a Doric granite column surmounted by a bronze allegorical female figure (“Genius of America”) with four marble eagles at her feet along with four bronze figures (Army, Navy, Peace, and History) and four bas relief castings depicting Civil War events.
The monument has graceful bronze figures along with massive stones that make it a quintessential tribute to fallen soldiers and sailors. However, what remained before this restoration began no longer honored the veterans as intended. Instead, the arms and heads of the bas-relief figures were lost, and the monument was marred with graffiti and the attempts of graffiti-removal. In 2004, vandals attempted to make off with the figure of Army only to drop it yards from the monument. At this point, the bronze figures were removed leaving the monument stripped of its celebrated sculptures.
The preservation of Soldiers and Sailors prevented the bronze figures from living forever in a storage facility. Although the costs of a restoration surpassed the typical expenses for artwork in the Boston Common and Public Garden, additional sources of funds* thankfully allowed completion of the project. In addition to the return and restoration of the figures, a significant improvement to the landscaping surrounding the monument was fulfilled by providing universal access. Although the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument came dangerously close to perishing from neglect, the preservation efforts rescued this time-honored monument so that it can grace the Boston Commons for today and the future.
*Funding provided by the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, the city’s Browne Fund, and the Friends of the Public Garden.