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INDEPENDENCE — The Confederate statue that guarded the south lawn of the Historic 1908 Courthouse in Independence for nearly a century has been taken down — but only temporarily.
Erected in 1911, the statue has never before been removed.
Just before noon on July 7, a crane removed the statue from its perch for the first time.
For the past three years, the Historic 1908 Courthouse Foundation has been raising money to restore the statue.
After noticing the base was beginning to separate, the foundation knew it had to do something — and do it quick.
They contacted an expert in restoration, Jim Muran of Abingdon.
After being given an estimate on total costs, the foundation began raising money through letters, word of mouth and collections during festivals. While the foundation is still about $5,000 short of its original goal, recent movement in the base has caused for a sense of urgency to get moving on the project.
Ken Winans, vice president of the foundation, noted that the statue has held up “pretty well” for its age.
Though it was originally placed on a cement foundation, Winans said the statue has gradually been pushed aside by rubble through the freeze-and-thaw cycles of the seasons.
With more than 40,000 pounds of weight pushing down on the foundation, soil began to creep under the statue, forcing apart the stones that formed the base.
Just prior to the removal, Winans said there was about a six-inch separation between the stones in the base.
After bringing in a contractor to remove the statue — who offered to volunteer part of his time to save labor costs — the 2,200 pound stones that make up the base were dissembled, as well.
Plans are to dig down and break apart the old concrete foundation, and pour a fresh slab.
One interesting side note is what contractors may find when they dig up the old foundation.
Winans said people have claimed there is a time capsule underneath the statue, as well as various coins.
“People that have grandparents that were alive when [the statue] was placed here have said they threw coins in the ground before the foundation was poured,” Winans told The Gazette.
No mention was made of what the courthouse foundation would do if such items were found, but Winans said contractors will be extremely careful when removing the old foundation “just in case.”
Once the new 12-inch concrete slab is poured, all the original stones and statue will be cleaned up and put back exactly the way they were.
Winans expects the process to last about a month.
Although the historic foundation is still short of its goal, Winans said it was a consensus among members that this needed to be done now.
In fact, when contractors began to remove the statue with the crane, they noted that it was very wobbly on the base — in other words, it could have fallen down and been destroyed at anytime.
The foundation is still seeking donations to cover the remaining portion of the restoration.
Checks can be made payable to Historic 1908 Courthouse Foundation and sent to P.O. Box 336, Independence, VA 24348. Donations can also be dropped off at the office in the Historic 1908 Courthouse, which is typically open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Winans said a common misconception about the courthouse is that it receives funding from local, state and federal government. The foundation is a non-profit organization, and has occasionally received grants that required a 50-50 match, but it receives no regular contributions from any level of government.
“We work on contributions only,” Winans said. “All money raised for the statue repair has come from individuals.”
(From Historic 1908 Courthouse Web site)
• The monument is 25 feet high over all, and weighs 45,000 lbs.
• The base is 9 feet square and rests upon a concrete foundation of like size.
• The pedestal is surmounted by a marble figure of a Confederate Infantryman at "Parade Rest."
• The statue is of white Italian marble and came out of a studio in Carrarra, Italy, from detailed drawings executed by the designer and builder of the monument, Henry Brown of Richmond.
• The pedestal, base, die, caps and shaft were cut at Mr. Brown's workshop in Richmond and made from Confederate gray granite produced by Virginia Granite Company's quarries situated just north of Richmond.
For more information on the Historic 1908 Courthouse and the statue repair, visit Historic1908Courthouse.org. All donations are tax deductible.