Plaudits abound for restored Minute Man Monument
The "man of the minute," as First Selectman Jim Marpe referred to the Minute Man Monument, was center stage Monday as the town's best-known symbol was unveiled following a months-long restoration.
Shrouded in plastic for weeks, the statue at Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road was covered in a white sheet secured by red and green ribbon before the unveiling ceremony.
Marpe and several others climbed the dirt mound at the statue's base before the official unveiling.
The first selectman thanked all those who helped make the $69,000 restoration possible, adding that, "Come spring, when it's warmer," there will be a "real celebration" for bringing the iconic Minute Man back to "its previous luster."
Then it was "one, two, three" and off came the shroud, prompting applause and "bravos" from the several dozen attending the event.
It ended with Marpe and Francis Miller, of Hamden-based ConservArt, the project conservator, topping off the statue with a red-and-white Santa hat for the season.
Miller said it took him and his crew, including a mason and ironworker, about "five months overall" to complete the project, noting that it involved "many stages," but encountered no major problems, to complete.
He said the statue itself had previously been restored in the 1990s, so "not much was needed there." He said it was missing a powder horn strap and broken anchors needed to be replaced. The statue, however, was washed and waxed, he said.
He said the stone base of the statue, which was raised 18 inches, is "just an amazing piece of history." He added the original base was 2 feet tall, but was shortened when the roads around the monument were raised because of street flooding, he said.
Miller said the stone was part of the base's original design, in tribute to the walls Colonial-era farmers in the area routinely built from stones cleared from the field. All the original stones were donated by local residents, he said.
Francis Henkels, chairman of the Historic District Commission, said, "It was a tricky compromise" deciding how high to raise the monument base because a wrought iron fence, that originally encircled the monument, was installed on top of it. "If the base was too high, the fence might obscure the statue," Henkels said.
Miller said the main goal of the project was "to leave the site as original as possible."
Miller said the job "looks very simple, but there was a lot of work involved." He added that the wrought iron fence was "hand-painted," which was not an easy task.
Kathie Bennewitz, the town's curator, said the monument was commissioned by the state on behalf of the Sons of the American Revolution. It was initially unveiled in June 1910 and handed over to the town.
She said in 1910 there were a lot of statues being dedicated to the Civil War, as a reflection of an upsurge in patriotism. The Sons of the American Revolution, she said, felt having the Minute Man monument, harking to the Colonial era, would be "a history lesson to their children, and their children's children and so on." She said it was placed at the traffic circle because cars were a new feature of life back then and it could be easily seen by those driving by.
"There are only four Minute Man statues in the country and we have one of them," she said.
The statue was designed by 30-year-old H. Daniel Webster and cast by Tiffany & Co. It commemorates local militia who took on invading British troops in April 1777.
The model for the stature is reputed to be the then-First Selectman Louis Wakeman, said Henkels.
Ed Hynes, a local history buff, gave an impromptu account of that invasion, which he said included about 1,850 British troops with a number of local loyalists in the mix.
He said the statue is facing Compo Hill where the battle was fought.
The project was overseen by Westport's Historic District Commission and Arts Advisory Committee.