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Friday, March 1, 2019

A First Look at the General Thomas Statue

A small-scale model, known as a maquette, of the General George Henry Thomas in full dress uniform.

Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

Chris Manning wants people to know: Fort Thomas' namesake General George Henry Thomas, was not only a decorated Union hero of the Civil War best known for his bold stand at the Battle of Chickamauga, but he also was the winningest general of the war – in fact he never lost a battle.

Manning is a member of a committee of Fort Thomas community members who are working to honor the general with a statue.

The idea to properly honor the general in the city is becoming closer to a reality, he says. Fundraising for the statue began in earnest last summer during the city’s sesquicentennial celebrations, and accomplished sculptor Matt Langford of Union, Kentucky, was chosen by the committee to bring the general’s likeness to life.

A history of the project 

Manning and another Fort Thomas resident Bob Heil, updated the community about the project at the February meeting of the Fort Thomas city council.

"Back when we did the Midway streetscape plan, we took the opportunity to say General Thomas needs a statue here in the city. So, when we did that plan, we created a circular planter in the streetscape and put a marker saying this is where General Thomas will be. That started a journey to create a statue," Manning explained.

He admitted that the idea sat on the back burner for awhile but when plans began for the city’s 150th year celebration, people were re-energized and recommitted to raising the funds, finding an artist and getting serious about making the dream come true.

Community members and students as well as a military home tour and a special "white on white" community dinner helped to raise $45,000 of the approximate $150,000 needed for the project.

 The right sculptor for the project steps forward

The committee was approached by Langford who had a keen interest in General Thomas's story and in creating the statue. After a review of sculptors, he was chosen to do the work.

The sculptor’s highly detailed bronze work can be seen in several Northern Kentucky communities. His sculpture of a young Abraham Lincoln stands outside the Covington branch of the Kenton County Public Library and his statue of Mary Draper Ingles welcomes visitors to the Boone County Library in Burlington.

The committee visited the sculptor at his studio in Union to see the work in process. "When we saw the maquette, which is a twelve-inch tall model of the statue, it was breathtaking," said Manning.

"[General Thomas] was in his field dress with his sword and his boots. He wasn’t the kind of general who stayed inside and let others do his fighting for him. He was out there with his men and well-respected in the field."

The statue will be nine feet tall. Manning saw the actual work in progress as well. "You can begin to see the level of detail. Matt thinks very carefully about each wrinkle in the boot, each button. He’s done research on the uniforms of the day, particularly General Thomas’s uniform, his sword, his gloves, his hat, every detail will emerge from that."

Sculptor Matt Langford at work on boot details of the full-size General Thomas statue.

Finding a location befitting the honored general

Soon after things got underway, said Manning, it became increasingly clear that the Midway location might not be the best choice for the statue for a number of reasons such as traffic and lack of accessibility. At the same time, Tower Park stood out as possibly better suited in light of renewed interest and improvements on the campus of the old fort, development of the Alexander Circle project and the creation of the Charters of Freedom monument.

He and Heil approached council to provide an update but also to ask for input and direction on how to determine where the statue should ultimately stand.

The park does appear to be the best and most logical place now for the statue, they said, but they wanted to ask for input on exactly where it should go. They presented five possibilities but said they were open to ideas. Each site had pros and cons and might require landscaping, masonry and other features to support the statue.

These options proposed by the committee and some reasons for their consideration are:

Option 1 — at the entry to Tower Park, opposite the tower. The statue would be placed in a new plaza opposite the tower designed to match the plaza already in place in front of the tower. This spot offers ample space for small groups or school classes to stand around it. A new accessible path from that corner to the playground and picnic area is being considered and the statue would fit well into that plan.

Option 2 — near the museum. The museum has grown both in its collection and as an educational resource. The statue could become part of a new outdoor garden terrace that looks over the valley toward the mess hall. New landscaping and a staircase from the spot down to the amphitheater could be considered.

Option 3 — in front of the mess hall. A boulder with commemorative bricks from donors stands there now. The statue could stand in its place. The mess hall was a site of great activity at the fort and overlooks the parade ground. The general was beloved by his men, and this might be a befitting place for his likeness.

Option 4 — at the corner by the entrance. The statue would welcome visitors coming into the park and would be a central focus. This spot is near the amphitheater where many activities are held. There would be a new plaza on the corner that could coincide with the roadway improvements proposed around the Alexander Circle project.

Option 5 — opposite the armory. The statue would be directly across from the front door of the armory and could build on the momentum of the Charters of Freedom and make a strong linkage to the museum and the armory. A new walkway could be created that would arch along the edge of green space that could feature a series of other monuments or statues commemorating other leaders associated with the fort and could be called the “Officers’ Walk.”

The model photographed to show how it might look in a park setting.

The committee did a study on each of the proposed sites and took into consideration several criteria including:
  • maximizing the number of people who could view and visit the statue
  • ability to keep access to the statue open without interruption from weddings and other private or public events going on in the park
  • a location suited to the dignity the general deserves
  • opportunities for group activities near the statue
  • security and exposure on the site

Council members and Mayor Eric Haas discussed the matter and said they would like to see studies done by the committee and requested their expert opinions on the different locations. The council voted to submit the ideas to the Recreation Committee for further review and a recommendation.

Haas said he also plans to visit Tower Park to look at the different options and encouraged council members to do the same.

Manning is the principal and landscape architect for Human Nature, Inc., and Heil is president and CEO of KLH Engineers. Both men are longtime residents of the city and have worked together on city projects. Heil has set up a General Thomas Statue Donation website for those who would like to donate. The committee will provide more information as details unfold.

Thank you to Chris Manning and Sara DiLandro for the photos used with this story.

A close up of the General Thomas's boots shows the level of detail taking shape.


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