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Friday, July 8, 2016

Fort Thomas Hopes To Honor Its Namesake With A Statue

General George Thomas. Painting: Fort Thomas Museum. 
General George Henry Thomas, a United States Army Officer and Union General during the American Civil War and the namesake of our city, may have been under appreciated in his time.

A committee of residents Bob and Mary Beth Heil, Chris and Paula Manning and Economic Director Debbie Buckley are working hard to change that perception and honor the man by bringing a "larger than life" statue of our general to town.

The location was designed to hold plants until the statue arrives, so it's been dormant until recently, when the community started to plan for the sesquicentennial
Originally planned to be unveiled at next year's Sesquicentennial, committee members have found the estimated $100 - $130,000 project may take a bit longer. But that's okay, because, according to Bob Heil, it needs to be done just right.

The statue, which will be 1.2 times life size will be erected in front of the Veterans Hospital, adjacent to the bus stop, directly across from the Olde Fort Pub.

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"General Thomas was greatly underappreciated in his time. He never got the kind of glory that some other generals received, said Bob Heil.

We are looking at this as an opportunity to take his story to a national stage to see if we can generate and elevate some more interest, maybe some more research on General Thomas and basically elevating his stature in the context of other generals of his day.  We think that's a really interesting opportunity and one reason why we would disconnect it from the Sesquicentennial so we can bring and even greater awareness of General Thomas."

Heil says General Thomas was a great strategist who was really endeared by his soldiers.

The committee has already met with one sculptor who they want to be able to depict the great characteristics General Thomas had and to capture the essence of the man. However, they have not made any final decisions and have a lot of planning and fundraising to do.

This September, the Heils are organizing a fundraising dinner at their home. At that time, they also will be officially naming their home the Colonel Egbert House, another tribute to a historical figure with ties to Fort Thomas.

Colonel Egbert is the only one to have his likeness adorned on the Fort Tower
The Heils discovered their home at 1 Greene Street, one of the old senior officer's homes from the days when the Fort was an active military base, was the residence of Colonel Harry Clay Egbert. You may know Egbert from a brass plaque on the famous Fort Thomas water tower, the only person depicted on the tower.

"Upon buying our house, I went to several sources like Campbell County Library and Campbell County Historical Society to learn more about 'the Fort' and that is where I discovered that Colonel Egbert lived in our home. We also have a number of historic photos of the Fort in its heyday in our home," Heil added.

Colonel Egbert was an officer in the United States Army who served in the American Civil War, the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War.

Lisa Tracy, the great-great granddaughter of Colonel Egbert provided our community museum with some military history artifacts. When she was in town a couple of years ago to help celebrate Veterans Day, the Heils hosted her for dinner at their home. 

"As you can imagine, she was moved to be dining in the same dining room that her great- great grandfather had dined in back in the late 1890’s. Since that time, Mary Beth and I have visited with her and her sister in their hometown of Lexington, Virginia.  Lisa was kind enough to give Mary Beth and I a wonderful portrait of Colonel Egbert which we have in our home," said Heil. 

We are hopeful that Lisa Tracy and her sister will be able to attend the fundraising dinner."

The committee also plans to launch a campaign that will allow the general public to contribute to this important public art project.

Heil is President and CEO at KLH Engineering firm and newly chair-elect at the NKY Chamber.  Mary Beth is lead laboratory technician at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Fort Thomas.

KLH Engineers did all of the lighting design and electrical engineering on the Midway Streetscape project which included the engineering of placing all of the overhead utilities underground.

Chris Manning, is a landscape architect for Human Nature, Inc., a landscape architecture and environmental planning firm that has been involved in the design of parks and streetscapes throughout Fort Thomas as well.

One of the projects was related to the streetscape design for the Midway District, in collaboration with CDS Associates (now CT Consultants) and KLH Engineers.

This brick inset is located in front of where the General Thomas statue will stand.
"As part of that design effort, we came up with the idea for several interpretive features that would celebrate the history of the district. There are five flags at the corner of River Road and S. Fort Thomas Avenue - one for each branch of the military.  There are interpretive paving insets in the brick that depict important historic facts and features.  Finally, there is the circular raised stone planter that we set aside as a location for the statue of General Thomas, said Manning.

We wanted this to be the focal point of the interpretive elements and to finally pay tribute to someone who has really gone unrecognized - our community's namesake."  

Chris and his wife Paula, a nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, have lived in Fort Thomas since 1987.

"Having raised both of our children here in Fort Thomas, we both agreed that this was a worthy and exciting opportunity to give back to the community," Manning added.

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