Monuments to the States
Morrill Homestead Pays Homage to Statuary Hall
The Statues of Liberty exhibit at the Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vt., features images of the work displayed in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., including sculptures of Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln in the background. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
A life-sized image of the Ethan Allen statue that resides in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. is included in the "Statues of Liberty" exhibit at the Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vt. Congressman Justin Morrill wrote the bill that created the hall. President Lincoln signed it into law in 1864. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
The Morrill Homestead's Carriage Barn is housing the Statues of Liberty exhibit in Strafford, Vt., through Oct. 13. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Images, from left, of statues of Daniel Webster, Richard Stockton and Po' Pay are displayed in stalls in the Carriage Barn at the Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Strafford — Justin Morrill is best known for drafting the legislation that created the nation’s system of land-grant colleges and for being a co-founder of the Republican Party.
But one of the Strafford-born Congressman and U.S. Senator’s lesser achievements is getting its due this summer at the Justin Morrill Homestead.
On Wednesday, the Strafford museum opened “Statues of Liberty,” an exhibition honoring the establishment of National Statuary Hall, a permanent display of likenesses of each state’s signature citizens. Morrill proposed, and shepherded through the Senate, the legislation creating the hall. President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law 150 years ago this month. At the time, the Civil War was still nearly a year from conclusion.
“There are so many monuments to battles that came out of the war,” said storyteller and writer Michael Caduto, director of the Friends of the Justin Morrill Homestead. “But at the same time, we were evolving culturally and artistically. The hall reflected that evolution and it has grown and evolved right up to today, like the country. It demonstrates more of a light than a darkness.”
In proposing the legislation for Statuary Hall, Morrill advocated for turning the historic Hall of the House into a gallery demonstrating “the glories of the past — civil, military and judicial — in one hallowed spot.” Each state was invited to contribute two statues to the hall, which before long ran out of space, leading to the spreading of the collection throughout the Capitol.
Among the early entries to Statuary Hall, Massachusetts’ 1876 statue of Revolutionary War instigator Samuel Adams now stands in the Capitol’s crypt, glaring with crossed arms at the graven images of Caesar Rodney, who broke the tie in the Delaware delegation’s vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence, and groundbreaking doctor Crawford Long of Georgia, who discovered and developed the anesthetic effect of ether), Confederate Civil War commander Robert E. Lee, and two New England generals who led Colonial troops to victory in key battles of the Revolutionary War: New Hampshire’s John Stark and Rhode Island’s Nathaniel Greene.
Greeting visitors at the entrance to the Morrill Homestead exhibit is a life-size replica of Vermont Revolutionary hero Ethan Allen. His marble incarnation’s roommates in Washington include Florida doctor John Gorrie, who in the first half of the 1800s invented the first system of air conditioning to reduce heat and moisture in the rooms where he treated patients for malaria, Confederate President Jefferson Davis (Mississippi), New Hampshire statesman Daniel Webster, Alabama Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, Spanish missionary Junipero Serra of California, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, Idaho Gov. and U.S. Sen. George Shoup, temperance leader Frances Willard of Illinois, Ben Hur author and Union Army Gen. Lewis Wallace of Indiana, Louisiana’s populist Gov. and U.S. Sen. Huey Long, Kentucky Sen. Henry (The Great Compromiser) Clay, Progressive Movement leader and Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Robert La Follette, and Kansas journalist turned U.S. Sen. John J. Ingalls.
In the Capital Rotunda stand presidents: bronzes of Ronald Reagan (California), Dwight D. Eisenhower (Kansas) and George Washington (Virginia), Gerald Ford (Michigan) and a marble of Abraham Lincoln, separate from the Illinois delegation.
“You get an intriguing portrait of the nature of each of the states by who they chose to represent them,” Caduto said, noting that Alabama did not include civil rights champion Rosa Parks. A separate bronze of Parks, ramrod straight on the bus seat she refused to surrender to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, was installed in 2013. At the Morrill Homestead, a photographic replica of Parks stands side-by-side with one of Lincoln, apart from the state representatives, in the Carriage House gallery space.
“I thought it would be nice to represent (Lincoln and Parks’) arc of history, from emancipation to the civil rights era,” Caduto said. “He’s in a relatively deferential pose, and she’s got this really defiant look on her face.”
Leading Caduto’s state-by-state favorites is Helen Keller, the deaf and blind Alabama girl who grew up to champion humanitarian causes, at the well pump where her teacher Annie Sullivan helped her recognize the symbol for water. That bronze by sculptor Edward Hlavka, installed in 2009, stands in the lower level of the Capitol Visitor Center.
In addition to Keller, Parks and Willard (the first female installed, in marble, in 1905), the women in the National Statuary Hall Collection include bronzes of Colorado physician and medical-system reformer Florence Sabin (1958), educator-suffragist Maria Sanford of Minnesota (1958), Montana pacifist Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress (1985), Native-American author-educator Sarah Winnemucca of Nevada (2005), Washington-state architect and missionary Mother Joseph (1980), suffragist Esther Hobert Morris, the first woman judge in U.S. history (1958), and North Dakota explorer Sakakawea, who guided Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the lands of the new Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean (2003).
“The Sarah Winnemucca statue really pops out of this picture,” Caduto said. “It took some doing to get the contrast right to show fringes on (the hem of) her dress blowing in the wind. When you look at it, you get a real sense of her presence.”
The Morrill Homestead’s “Statues of Liberty: A Sesquicentennial Exhibit and Celebration” will be on display in the Carriage House through Oct. 13. On Aug. 3, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Strafford Town House, historian Donald R. Kennon will lecture on “Pillars of the People: National Statuary Hall & the Virtues of the 50 States.” For more information go to morrillhomestead.org.