Pvt. George Washington Fair has stood watch over the city for 134 years.
The Civil War Soldiers Monument, standing today at Main Street and Monument Avenue, was carved in the likeness of Pvt. Fair, a carpenter and bricklayer born in Dayton who mustered into the Union Army in 1861 and out in 1865.
The mustachioed monument holding a rifle was first unveiled at Main and Water Streets on July 31, 1884, less than two decades after the end of the Civil War. A crowd of 100,000 people, one of the city’s largest at a time when Dayton’s population was reported to be 40,000, crowded in for the dedication.
The symbol to the Civil War stood there until 1948, when it was relocated to alleviate traffic congestion. A spot along Riverview Avenue overlooking the Great Miami River was designated as its new home.
Removing the infantryman — and the 73-foot high granite column he stood on — once again drew large crowds.
A 45-ton crane “carefully jockeyed the end of its 100-feet boom to several feet above the Civil War hero’s jaunty marble cap,” according to the April 14, 1948 edition of the Dayton Daily News.
Ropes were looped around the middle of Pvt. Fair, trussing up the 7-ton statue as onlookers kept watch from the street and the windows of the Biltmore Hotel.
The workmen were aghast to find the only thing holding the statue to the top of the monument was “a bit of mortar,” reported the newspaper.
“How in the world that statue stood up there for 64 years without getting blown over is something I’d like to know,” said Hugh Foreman, a trustee of the company charged with the move.
“As it reached the ground, the 9 1/2 ft. statue was literally mobbed,” reported the newspaper. “The intersection of Main Street and Monument Avenue was one mass of people, all striving to get in close for a look or a picture.”
Almost as dramatic as the move was the disagreement over whether to open a copper box containing documents “that had reposed within the granite bosom” of the monument since 1884.
A front page story described a heated exchange among city and county officials debating whether the historical contents would disintegrate when exposed to the air.
After two dissenters stalked angrily out of the room, the time capsule was opened. Among the items found inside were “copies of all daily and weekly newspapers of the day, the annual reports of the Board of Health and Police Department, a copy of the city directory for 1883 and a large color picture of the unveiling of the monument.”
The items were displayed to the public in the windows of downtown stores before the box was replaced inside the monument with added records from 1948.
A $7.5 million Main Street revitalization project in 1991 called Pvt. Fair back to his original location overlooking Main Street.
The Italian marble had been damaged by weather and pollution over the years, so the soldier was recast in bronze for his homecoming. Today, you can find the original marble soldier under the portico at the entrance of the Dayton VA Medical Center.
On Memorial Day, crowds again filled the streets of downtown Dayton for the return and dedication of the monument.
But Pvt. Fair was a no show.
The company creating the new statue wasn’t able to complete it on time for the ceremony, which continued anyway around the topless pedestal.
Two days later, the bronze statue was returned to its post as the sentinel of the city.
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at Lisa.Powell@coxinc.com.