My Town Monday: Dayton’s Mostly-unknown War Memorial

Happy Memorial Day! To those in the U.S., before you head out for cookouts, games, parties or whatever, please take a moment to remember and be thankful for the men and women of our armed forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

A lot of people don’t know it, but we have our own war memorial statue in Dayton, Ohio. Well, okay, maybe if one really looks, it’s obvious the man atop the 85-foot column is a soldier, but I’m guessing that the vast majority of the people who pass by have no idea who he was, or why he’s been immortalized in stone.

Soldiers Monument, Dayton Ohio ca. 1902

Soldiers' Monument in Dayton, Ohio, circa 1902

The statue was erected in 1884, as a memorial to the many men from Dayton and Montgomery County who served in the U.S. Civil War. The original plan was to place a Lady Liberty statue atop the 85-foot column, but the veterans’ organization who started the fundraising and legal efforts to have the statue built, wanted a Union private instead, someone who symbolized the rank and file who fought in the war. After a lengthy search, they selected lifelong Dayton resident George Washington Fair, in part because he was tall and good-looking. A modest man, his wife had to talk him into modeling for the sculpture.

The column was built in Dayton, with a base of local limestone, but the statue was commissioned from an Italian sculptor. It arrived in the U.S. On May 27 , 1884, two weeks ahead of schedule, and was shipped by rail and arrived in Dayton on June 1st. The statue was assembled at the corner of Main and Water Street (now Monument Avenue) and was dedicated as part of a big celebration and parade on July 31.

By the end of World War II, the streets had become congested and the city commission decided to relocate the statue to Riverview Park. It was replaced in its original location in 1993.

If you’re from the Dayton area, did you know the story behind the statue? Or if you’re from somewhere else, does your town have a war memorial, and do you know its story?

Check out other My Town Monday posts at the My Town Monday Blog

Soldiers’ Monument photo – Library of Congress, ca. 1902, via Dayton History Books Online

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