Friday Flashback #196

Town arts curator and historian Kathleen Motes Bennewitz reminds us that next Wednesday — June 17 — is the 110th anniversary of the unveiling of the Minute Man monument.

In an essay for ConnecticutHistory.org, she describes “Bunker Hill Day,” which drew over 1,000 state residents.

Temporarily concealed by canvas and a bunting-clad dais was a life-sized bronze of a farmer-turned-soldier — with his powder horn and musket at the ready — kneeling atop a grassy pedestal that rose some 6 feet above the roadway. The monument was erected to honor the heroism of patriots who defended the country when the British invaded Connecticut at Compo Beach on April 25, 1777, and in the ensuing two days of conflict at Danbury and Ridgefield.

Created by Westport artist H. Daniel Webster (1880-1912), The Minute Man is sited in the center of the intersection at Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, said to be the exact spot of the fiercest engagement between British and Continental militias that April evening. After accepting the statue and turning it over to the town’s care, Lewis B. Curtis, president of the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution, declared that “Westport should always cherish among their brightest possessions, this spot and the monument, which we have erected to commemorate the noble deeds enacted here.”

The Minute Man statue, around the time of his 1910 dedication.

Surprisingly, our Minute Man is one of only 4 honoring those Revolutionary War civilian patriots. The most famous, Bennewitz says, is at Concord, Massachusetts near “the shot heard ’round the world.” The other 2 are also in the Bay State (Lexington and Framingham).

Bennewitz notes that the 1910 unveiling capped an 8-year campaign for a monument. It began in 1902, when the town “secured title to Compo Beach as a public resort.”

As for the sculptor, Webster was just 29 years old when he received the commission in 1909. Three years earlier, he had moved from New York to Westport’s “nascent artist community.”

After modeling the figure at his Westport studio, he had it cast by Tiffany & Co. at Roman Bronze Works, the country’s preeminent art foundry. To complete the monument, he asked nearby residents to donate fieldstone for the foundation wall and large, asymmetrical boulders for the earthen mound and to house the bronze plaques. The finished cost was $2,900.

Our Minute Man (Photo/Tim Woodruff)

Four years after its unveiling, the Minute Man was a destination for owners of newfangled automobiles, who followed George Washington’s route from Philadelphia to Cambridge to assume command of the Continental army.

In 1935 the monument was the emblem for the town centennial; in 1986, the centerpiece of Miggs Burroughs’ town flag.

In 1957, it was even featured on “I Love Lucy.” You can’t get more American than that.

(For Kathleen Motes Bennewitz’s full WestportHistory.org story, click here. For an “06880” account of the Battle of Compo Hill, click here.)

The Minute Man is beloved by Westporters. He’s decorated with Santa Claus caps at Christmas, bunny ears on Easter, even a COVID-19 mask. Some people think it’s sacrilege. Many more think it’s a tribute to our favorite son. (Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

9 responses to “Friday Flashback #196

  1. Actually, the “shot heard ’round the world” took place on the Lexington Common and is reenacted every year (except this year) on Patriot’s Day

  2. John F. Suggs

    Thanks for this post focusing on our iconic Minute Man. It truly is the premier symbol that encapsulates Westport and rightfully is portrayed on our town flag (Thanks Miggs!). What never ceases to amaze me though is how a small group of town employees could have been so utterly blind and tone deaf as to choose a silly W as the official logo for Westport instead of our beloved Minute Man. Trust me when I say this: our Minute Man will still be ever present, proud and tall long after that ugly W has been rightfully consigned to the scrap heap. Happy 110th Minute Man!

  3. Ross Burkhardt

    Interesting. As you may be aware…It’s also the day African Americans celebrate emancipation! Also much less we’ll known is the fact that Benedict Arnold was a key leader in attacking the Red Coats as they retreated from Danbury.

    • That’s true. And Benedict Arnold was a national hero for much longer than he was a traitor. History doesn’t deal with that very well.

  4. Kathleen Bennewitz

    Happy early birthday MinuteMan! Thanks Dan.
    Actually, the reference here to “the shot heard round the world“ Is to The Concord Hymn, the famous stanza of which is inscribed on the base of Daniel Chester French’ Minuteman statue
    For more on the history and the first shot and the line visit here: https://www.nps.gov/mima/learn/education/the-shot-heard-round-the-world.htm

  5. Looks racist to me. It should be destroyed!

  6. John Terpening

    Interesting what “all” the Minuteman symbolizes. One hundred and ten years later we are taking a knee again. Another revolution. An interesting visual. A man, a gun, a mask, and a knee. Ironic that Westport was the epicenter for both the Revolutionary War and Covid 19. I would like to be a fly on the fence or an Osprey on the head of the Minuteman a hundred and ten years from now to see how well we fair in the “battle” against multiple foes.

  7. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    I did not get to this post this morning. I did not know it was the Minute Man’s 110th birthday. I was thinking about him though and doing research about our Country’s earliest years. I still feel like I am home when I cross the Bridge Street Bridge and head toward South Compo road knowing I will see my favorite statue. I am heartbroken that the “W” has replaced him. Lots of places could have a “W” but as reported very few have a Minute Man.

  8. Sadly Webster commited suicide in Texas in 1912. He was 33. His house on Sylvan Road remains, as does this marvellous work.

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