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.”
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.
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.