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Check-up set for town's Minute Man statue

Updated 8:57 am, Monday, May 6, 2013
  • A Hamden firm, ConservArt, will conduct a study of the Minute Man statue at the intersection of Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, ahead of its possible restoration. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    A Hamden firm, ConservArt, will conduct a study of the Minute Man statue at the intersection of Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, ahead of its possible restoration. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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In the finale of "I Love Lucy," Lucy Ricardo concocts an ingenious scheme to account for a broken minute man statue.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEBNfrEHuN8
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The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract for a Hamden firm to conduct a study of the Minute Man statue at the intersection of Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road to assess the monument's condition and identify parts of it that may need restoration.

"We consider it probably the most important symbolic feature in town," Francis Henkels, the Historic District Commission's chairman, said of the statue during the selectmen's meeting.

ConservArt, a firm dedicated to the preservation of artistic and historic objects, will produce the study. The assessment is expected to start in early June and take approximately two months to complete, according to Henkels.

ConservArt's director, Francis Miller, is the statue's conservator.

The town needs the study, along with a local historic property designation for the monument, to qualify for restoration funding from the state. Within the next two weeks, the town will submit to the state a "study report" by the HDC and town's Arts Advisory Committee, which examines the statue's history and local significance, according to Henkels. The Representative Town Meeting will make the final decision on whether historic property status is granted.

A historic property designation would also entail that any proposed changes to the statue would face an HDC review.

The Minute Man statue has attracted renewed attention since the town removed an iron fence encircling the monument and replaced it a metal perimeter last year. That was not well-received by HDC members, who argued that the iron fence, which dates to the statue's dedication, could be restored. The dismantled iron enclosure is now in storage, but Henkels said he still favors its reinstallation.

In addition to fencing, the ConservArt study will also evaluate other components of the statue site such as its stone pedestal and a heavily fragmented stone wall, which has been battered by auto collisions. Henkels added that the statue, a kneeling militia soldier clutching a musket as he faces Minute Man Hill (formerly Compo Hill), is in "good condition."

The ConservArt study will also estimate restoration costs. Carol Leahy, the HDC's staff administrator, told the selectmen that state funding would probably cover about half of those expenses.

The Minute Man statue is arguably the town's most well-known monument. It was erected in 1910 by the Sons of the American Revolution to commemorate the April 28, 1777, Battle of Compo Hill. The showdown took place three days after British Gen. William Tryon led 2,000 troops from Compo Beach on a march to raid a military supply depot in Danbury. Dorothy Curran and the late Mollie Donovan described the battle in an account posted on the Westport Historical Society's website.

"There, waiting Patriot marksmen, though outnumbered, waited for the arriving British troops as they marched downhill," the account narrated. "Graves of some of the fallen minute men from that day are marked along Compo Beach Road, across from the Minute Man Statue."

Tryon returned to burn Norwalk and Fairfield, but British troops would not venture inland again in Connecticut, according to Curran and Donovan.

The statue also has a prominent place in popular culture. In the finale of the "I Love Lucy" television series, the character Lucy Ricardo destroys a doppelganger of the real-life monument an hour before its unveiling.

To account for that mishap, she devises a solution that sets up one of the most famous scenes in American television history -- posing as the militia statue herself.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott