Anthony Wayne gave this city its name way back in 1794. Mayor Tom Henry wants to return the favor by giving the “Mad” general's best-known likeness a much higher profile.
“He's our city's namesake, and it was noticeable at the time,” Henry said, referring to the bronze sculpture of Wayne on his horse that has stood in downtown's Freimann Square since 1973. “Unfortunately, because of the trees that were planted, he's hidden today.
“Here's the namesake of our city, and you can't see him.”
So, for just the second time since Chicago sculptor George Ganiere created the statue in 1918, it appears Wayne and his steed will again be on the move: to the Courthouse Green a couple of blocks away.
The 12-year-old park just east of the Allen County Courthouse is devoid of large trees and other obstructions, but what really appeals to Henry is the fact that about 40,000 vehicles go through the intersection of Main and Clinton streets every day – the southwest corner of which will apparently provide the statue's new home sometime this spring.
“It should have a real impact,” Henry said. “I can't come up with a compelling reason not to move him.”
It's a great idea, alright: one the mayor believes can be realized for the $100,000 or so it will cost to move the statue and create its new base. Wayne is an important historical figure, the sculpture is a civic icon and both deserve to be recognized by as many people as possible.
The brief history of the city-owned Courthouse Green, however, indicates that sensible and even seemingly mundane changes can generate controversy.
After local attorneys in 2005 noticed there was no American flag on the courthouse, for example, they raised $5,000 to install poles and flags in Courthouse Green. But when members of the Courthouse Preservation Trust objected, officials resorted to putting U.S. and state flags on the roof of the county-owned courthouse instead.
“This is so ridiculous,” County Commissioner Nelson Peters said at the time – and he was right.
And when the city planted a seasonal palm tree in Courthouse Green later that year, members of the trust again said it detracted from the building's historicity – even though a city arborist pointed out that palm trees had been popular during the Victorian period in which the courthouse had been built.
There seems to be little controversy this time around, however – which is tribute to the innate rightness of Henry's idea and the openness and good sense with which he and trust members have pursued it.
Henry said trust members have agreed to the statue's placement in the southeast corner of the Green – far close enough to the street to be visible but far enough back to avoid out-of-control vehicles – in exchange for a few equally logical considerations.
The trust will be consulted before the area around the transplanted statue is landscaped, and the city will agree to forgo further “improvements” to the small park, preserving its character as a mostly open green space.
By itself, moving a statue a few blocks – even one this iconic - -is no big deal. But the value of making the city's namesake more visible in the heart of a downtown that has already undergone many positive changes and will see many more in years to come should not be underestimated simply because of the relative ease with which it may be achieved.
History is precious, but so is the present and future. Maintaining the proper balance is always difficult, but the journeys of Anthony Wayne and his horse indicate that history can at times be served by adjusting to contemporary needs and sensibilities.
For the first 55 years of its existence, the statue stood in Hayden Park at Maumee Avenue, Harmer Street and Jefferson Boulevard. The location was chosen because Maumee was, in 1918, part of the Lincoln Highway -- the nation's first cost-to-coast road.
But when conditions changed and Freimann Square was created as a centerpiece of the “urban renewal” of the 1960s and '70s, Wayne kept pace.
That was about the same time Hayden Park was renamed in honor of the city's first black councilman, John Nuchols.
And in 1993, the statue – which had gained a green patina over the years – was restored to its original bronze finish. Some appreciated the makeover, others didn't.
In other words, times change. Now Wayne is poised to move again to a new location that will enable him to tell an old story more effectively to more people.
Isn't that what history is supposed to be all about?