As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, members of the Minute Man Monument Restoration Committee held a work session last week on plans to pay fitting tribute to the local farmers and businessmen who took up arms and fought for freedom against invading British troops on Westport soil in 1777.
The committee, a subcommittee of the Historic District Commission and the town's Arts Advisory Committee, met June 26 to review the two bids submitted in response to the second request for proposals to restore the historic Minute Man landmark, which is maintained by the town's Arts Advisory Committee.
Town Curator Kathie Bennewitz said the Minute Man statue serves as the town's symbol, commemorating an important battle that took place where the monument stands. "As it regains its former glory we're looking forward to sharing its fuller story with the town and the region," Bennewitz said.
The monument was unveiled on June 17, 1910, at the intersection of Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road to commemorate "the heroism of the Patriots who defended their country when the British invaded this State on April 25, 1777," according to the wording on a plaque that rests at the feet of the Minute Man statue.
Patriots' blood was spilled at that intersection three days later as the British soldiers returned from Danbury and Ridgefield. Twenty local men died in that Battle of Compo Hill.
The first RFP elicited three restoration proposals, all with bids that exceeded the Board of Finance appropriated restoration project funding of $79,150. The funds are included in the HDC budget, likely to be carried over to the new fiscal year with approval from the board.
The restoration project was set in motion in 2012 after the original 1910 wrought iron fence was replaced with a modern barrier of hollow aluminum painted black. The original fencing is in storage and will be re-installed as part of the project outlined in the RFP. It includes conservation oversight, minor repairs to the bronze statue, re-grading the grass-covered earth mound to match its historic design and profile, raising the extant circular fieldstone wall, replacing missing or damaged capstones and re-setting loose stones.
"The grassy pedestal no longer has its shape and a lot of the soil has been lost," Bennewitz said.
The statue was first modeled in clay by Westport artist Harry Daniel Webster and cast in bronze by Tiffany & Co. in April 1910. The unveiling date of June 17 that same year was chosen by the Connecticut Society Sons of the American Revolution, which erected the Minute Man statue, because it was the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, according to the website www.westporthistory.org.
HDC Chairman Francis Henkels said whoever is selected to do the restoration will not be responsible to supply the necessary stones. That task will fall to the town, either through donations or community efforts. Bennewitz said that will be part of a larger community campaign that hearkens back to the building of the monument itself.
As it was being erected, The Westporter Herald reported on Aug. 2, 1909, that sculptor H. Daniel Webster of Westport modeled in clay a life-sized figure of the patriot on First Selectman Lewis P. Wakeman, as "a number of prominent local citizens watched. To complete the monument Webster called for donations from nearby residents of local fieldstone for the wall and earthen mound, which the sculptor then selected and integrated into the monument."
During last week's work session, discussion focused on details of the two bids, neither of which were submitted in response to the first RFP. One is local; the other from out of state. One provided detailed information; the other was short on project-specific information. The selection is a critical one. "It's not easy to find someone who can act as conservator and general contracting supervisor," said Carol Leahy, staff administrator of the HDC.
The subcommittee arranged to conduct a telephone interview with one bidder on July 8 to ask questions about specific elements of the project that were lacking in its submission. The subcommittee expects to select one of the two candidates by July 11. The Board of Selectmen is expected to vote on the project contract at its July 23 meeting. If approval is granted, restoration work is scheduled to begin July 28 and conclude about three months later.
Meanwhile, the public can get more information about the Minute Man monument and the restoration project at a display in the Town Hall lobby.