Maintaining A Legacy
An Administrative History of George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
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"Second to None in America, Even East of the Alleghenies": Inventing the George Rogers Clark Memorial

During the 1920s, the United States underwent one of its periodic cultural cataclysms. The upheaval following the end of World War I, the rise of mass communication media such as silent movies and the radio, a dramatic increase in the availability of the automobile, a new cycle of urbanization, and the passage of the Volstead Act and the subsequent era of Prohibition combined to create a culture at war with itself. On one side of this battle were the "Drys," paragons of a kind of preindustrial rural virtue that advocated delayed gratification, faith, and sunup-to-sundown work. On the other were followers of a new order, the "Wets," who embraced urbanization and modernization and who experienced the kind of alienation of which writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, wrote. Coming to a head in the trial of high school biology teacher John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925 for teaching the forbidden creed of scientific evolution, the decade embodied immense cultural conflict. [16]

An economic dimension of this struggle for cultural dominance also existed. During the 1920s, the availability of consumer goods and widespread credit coupled with the centralization of commodity distribution created a world in which those with the ability to invest did extremely well and those who could not lost ground. Agricultural areas such as the rural Midwest were hit hard; the combination of economic and cultural turmoil during the decade played a part in such phenomena as the resurgence of the nativist Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. [17]

Against this backdrop, the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the Revolutionary War approached. Much of the war had been fought along the Eastern seaboard, and the majority of the sites associated with it were there. Yet Vincennes, Indiana, also had a special claim for patriotic importance. The capture of Fort Sackville by George Rogers Clark and his Big Knives in 1779 played a pivotal role in the war, securing what would become the Old Northwest for the fledgling republic. In a time of cultural and economic change that sometimes seemed out of control, when state institutions in Indiana were under scrutiny as a result of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and when the young seemed devoid of an understanding of the salient features of the American past, places such as Vincennes had the potential to be tremendously significant.

The generation who was leading both the nation and the state strongly felt its ties to the past. Following the end of the Civil War, a new kind of reverence arose for the American experience. At many battlefields, Union and Confederate veterans alike gathered on the anniversary of a specific battle to remember their losses; northern politicians harkened back to their Civil War stance or service and "waved the bloody shirt" well into the early twentieth century. Museums became conduits of cultural transmission, massive temples that served as shrines to commemorate the achievements of American culture. World's fairs and expositions enunciated the triumphs of American technology, virtue, and ideology, seemingly mitigating the dislocation caused by industrialization with the pronouncement of its successes. [18]

In a state such as Indiana, increasingly divided between its urban industrial north and its more rural, agrarian, and less economically well off south, these distinctions had powerful significance. As did southern Illinois to its west, southern Indiana shared in little of the advantages of industrialization, yet its residents were equally exposed to the new world of the 1920s. Everywhere it seemed, even on farms and in small towns, people decried the decline in values and morality, the loss of affection for the standards of the old. Even in the commotion that came to surround the sesquicentennial of the American Revolution, Indiana's primary event, the taking of Fort Sackville, and its ancillary moments of importance in the development of the nation, such as the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, were slighted. The legacy of Clark's capture of Fort Sackville was an integral part of the story of the American Revolution; what remained was to cast that heritage in a manner that reflected the values of the time.

With both economic and cultural needs apparent in southern Indiana, and with the support of strong legislative forces from the rural parts of the state, a combination of politics, local initiative, and opportunism joined to create a small movement that favored commemoration of the efforts of George Rogers Clark and his men. The site of Fort Sackville had become part of downtown Vincennes, the commercial center of Knox County, Indiana. Even in the worst of times, commercial space was valuable, and after the destruction of Fort Sackville, its location became part of the business district of the city. At the onset of the 1920s, a warehouse, grain elevator, feed mill, and a number of run-down boardinghouses covered the site of the most important American victory of the Revolutionary War that occurred west of the Allegheny Mountains. Only a marker placed there in 1905 by the Daughters of the American Revolution attested to its importance. [19]

Such a situation spoke poorly of Indiana as a state. In a nation on the verge of the sesquicentennial of its founding moment, one of its prominent states had in its domain an important historic place that was treated with none of the dignity such a location merited. As 1929, the 150th anniversary of Clark's expedition approached, a nation where the homes of even minor figures of the founding era had become house museums neglected Vincennes, a place of national importance. [20]

By the middle of the 1920s, a movement to arrange for state preservation of the Fort Sackville site had begun among Vincennes area leaders and their organizations. A Vincennes leader, State Representative D. Frank Culbertson served as the catalyst, contacting Dr. Christopher B. Coleman, director of the Indiana Historical Society. Aware of a proposal to construct a new bridge across the Wabash River at the foot of Vigo Street in downtown Vincennes, Culbertson suggested that a statue of Clark be commissioned to grace the entrance to the Indiana side of the bridge. Coleman recognized the potential of the idea, for similar commemorative efforts were in progress in the East. On April 19, 1925, a sesquicentennial reenactment of the midnight ride of Paul Revere was to occur in Massachusetts. To Coleman, the 150th anniversary of the fall of Fort Sackville offered an important opportunity to rescue this local facet of the legacy of the American Revolution from the oblivion into which it had toppled. [21]

Local and state organizations of various kinds joined in the idea. The Vincennes Historical Society petitioned the Indiana Historical Society to initiate a drive to commemorate the location of Fort Sackville. By the end of 1925, the Indiana Historical Society had established the General Clark Sesquicentennial Committee. A local lawyer and longtime history buff, Ewing Emison, brought the most powerful political entity in the state, the Republican Party, into the drive. At his behest in May 1926, the state party adopted a plank in its platform to commemorate the Clark expedition. [22]

The General Clark Sesquicentennial Committee pursued the same objective. In 1925, its members devised the initial version of the plan to honor the actions of Clark and his men. Committee members envisioned city, county, state, and federal participation in support of the idea, with Vincennes and Knox County acquiring and donating the Fort Sackville site, the state purchasing the remainder of the necessary acreage, and the United States government finding the construction of a memorial. The plan found favor with the local press, and the Vincennes Chamber of Commerce supported the effort wholeheartedly, appropriating $23,000 for lobbying efforts in both Indianapolis and Washington, D.C.

At the same time as the state Republican party met, the General Clark Sesquicentennial Committee convened a luncheon for approximately 500 people in the gymnasium of Gibault High School in Vincennes. There the committee defined its plan of action. Committee members took a broad-based approach to the issue, planning to seek donations of all of the land on which Fort Sackville had been located, promote the construction of a boulevard along the riverfront that would connect the site of Fort Sackville with nearby Grouseland, home of territorial governor and later United States President William Henry Harrison, reconstruct Fort Sackville, and provide for a suitable museum commemorating Clark and his men near the site of the fort. They planned to invite the president of the United States to address a public meeting in Vincennes in February 1929, the sesquicentennial of the fort's capture. The committee also sought to stage a professional pageant in Vincennes during the summer of 1929, and advocated the minting of a George Rogers Clark commemorative half dollar and postage stamp. In addition, committee members supported the construction of a plaza in front of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church — also known as the Old Cathedral — adjacent to the Fort Sackville site. The committee also sought commemoration of those who assisted Clark's endeavor — most notably Francis Vigo and Father Pierre Gibault. [23]

Nor did the committee neglect outside sources of support and finding. Committee members envisioned Fort Sackville as a place of national importance and made every effort to plan its development in a national context. Federal support was a key to the success of the plans of the committee, and its idea of a "public meeting" — what could be termed as a conference — and a summer pageant reflected the economic, patriotic, and practical dimensions of having an important national site located in the community. [24]

In this, the leaders of the Vincennes community expanded not only the value and meaning of historic preservation, but also the way in which it was accomplished. In the 1920s, most historic preservation was supported by elite, private groups and was confined to the homes of historic and sometimes merely antiquarian figures. Places such as George Washington's home of Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's estate of Monticello had been preserved by the efforts of private citizens and while the federal government possessed much land, most of it was west of the Mississippi River, far from the location of most of the activity in the eighteenth-century colonies and American Republic. Even the agency designated by the federal government as responsible for preservation, the decade-old National Park Service (NPS), operated few historic places and none of any meaningful patriotic value. At the same time that John D. Rockefeller Jr. planned the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia, the people of Vincennes, Indiana, fashioned a remarkably similar idea. [25]

Yet the plans to create the Clark memorial were decidedly different from existing efforts at preservation. While being as local in character as other similar efforts, the plans for Vincennes reflected a kind of economic pragmatism that was uncommon in the early history of American preservation. As did their predecessors, the people of Vincennes acted from love of the meaning of their past and sought help from outside and governmental agencies, but unlike previous efforts, they envisioned local economic benefits and infrastructural improvement from their development. The idea of a boulevard between Grouseland and the Fort Sackville site could only enhance the accessibility, attractiveness, and desirability of downtown Vincennes; such a development indicated a new and different kind of preservation. This was meant to preserve and renew — preserve the past and renew the importance of Vincennes as a community as well as improve its economic fortunes. What remained for the General Clark Sesquicentennial Committee was to marshal its forces and convince all the necessary people and organizations to support its program.

State politics in Indiana helped further this cause. In 1926, Republicans dominated state races, sending a majority to the statehouse in Indianapolis. The Clark commemoration was part of the party platform, and when the General Assembly convened in January 1927, state legislators introduced a bill to create the George Rogers Clark Memorial Commission. Under the terms of the bill, the governor would select this fifteen-member entity, which was expected to make and implement plans to commemorate Clark's expedition and the capture of Fort Sackville. A levy of one-half cent per $100 of taxable property in the state would be authorized to support committee activities. [26]

The most important power granted in this legislation was the ability to shape the memorial. Besides the authority to acquire property, even by use of the power of eminent domain, the committee was to plan for a structure that would "appropriately, adequately, fittingly, and permanently" commemorate the events at Fort Sackville. The bill allowed for an architectural contest with the winning designer receiving a $25,000 prize — no small sum during the 1920s. [27]

Passage in the state legislature required some compromise. While the Indiana House approved the bill as proposed, the state senate reduced the levy from five mills to four. Strong support to promote the effort came from Knox County delegates such as state Senator Curtis G. Shake, who insisted that compared to Clark, even "Napoleon's march on Moscow was nothing." [28] Behind-the-scenes lobbying by Culbertson, a former state senator familiar with the personalities and politics of the statehouse, coupled with public work by his political opponent, Ewing Emison, assured passage of the legislation. The local General Clark Sesquicentennial Committee lobbied Governor Edward Jackson three times before it secured his promise to approve the measure. The bill passed the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously in January. It received a large majority in the state Senate in February, and was signed into law by the governor on February 23, 1927, two days before the 148th anniversary of the surrender of Fort Sackville. [29] It was a fitting time for authorization of the project.

Indiana legislators had been impressed with the coherence of the lobbying for the proposal as well as with the potential meaning of the Fort Sackville site. Old rivals Culbertson and Emison put aside differences to support something of benefit to their community and region. Those who met with the governor were businessmen, skilled at negotiations about such difficult issues as the value of real estate for tax purposes and were able to convince the most important official in the state that this was not a frivolous adventure, but one that possessed important economic advantages as well as cultural ideals. Such practical methods appear to have done far more for passage than the thunderous rhetoric for which state Senator Shake was famous. "The historical significance of this memorial and the feats and record of General George Rogers Clark," he told his cheering colleagues in the Statehouse, "are second to none in America, even east of the Alleghenies." But observers of the Indiana political scene credited the success of the proposal to the careful lobbying that accompanied it. [30]

The composition of the resulting commission reflected both the historical importance of the project and the political realities of the state. Of the fifteen members, Governor Jackson named two: Ewing Emison and William Fortune, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the American Red Cross. The Indiana Historical Society appointed four members, Dr. James A. Woodburn of Bloomington, architect Lee Burns of Indianapolis, Father Francis H. Gavisk of Indianapolis, and the Governor's wife, Mrs. Lydia Beaty Pierce Jackson. With its three appointments, the Society of Indiana Pioneers named Frank C. Ball of Muncie, D. Frank Culbertson of Vincennes, and Lew M. O'Bannon of Corydon, while the Indiana Library and Historical Board selected Thomas Taggart of French Lick, Mrs. Anne Studebaker Carlisle of South Bend, and Clem J. Richards of Terre Haute. Lieutenant Governor F. Harold Van Ormen, Speaker of the Indiana House Harry J. Leslie, and Dr. Christopher Coleman of the Historical Bureau were the three ex officio members who made up the remainder of the commission. Fortune was elected president of the commission. Embodying expertise, social standing, and economic and political influence, the commission reflected powerful forces in the state. [31]

One of the tenets agreed upon in 1925 by the local sesquicentennial committee was that the Clark story was part of the national story, not merely state or local in significance, and federal participation in any project that developed was essential. Achieving that success meant harnessing the strength of a strongly Republican, powerful northern state during an era of Republican political ascendancy and securing the support of state representatives in Washington, D.C. While seemingly a relatively simple procedure, the process of building a constituency that could convince national leaders was extremely complicated.

In part, the difficulty resulted from a lack of precedent. In the 1920s, most historic places remained in private hands and the few federally owned sites were battlefields administered by the War Department. Although federal advocates of preservation such as NPS Assistant Director and Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park Horace M. Albright recognized the need for historic preservation in the park system, the National Park Service concentrated its limited resources on large national parks. During the efforts to develop the Clark memorial, the attention NPS officials had for parks east of the Mississippi River was devoted to the development of the Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Mammoth Cave national parks. [32]

Nor would the idea of building a memorial have been attractive to Albright and agency director Stephen T. Mather at a time when their "crown jewels" often lacked roads and trails. During the 1920s, the agency turned down opportunities to acquire places that might be historically significant, but that lacked historic fabric. In one such case, Tennesseans approached the Park Service to offer the Meriwether Lewis grave site and its environs, only to be rebuffed. Tactical lobbying of Congress and President Calvin Coolidge led to creation of the Meriwether Lewis National Monument over the objections of the agency. Despite the perception of the importance of the Clark site in Indiana, convincing the federal government of its value would require all the political influence and skill available to advocates. [33]

As the state commission became reality and began to organize, Indiana representatives in the U.S. Congress sought to secure federal participation. In the short session of the 69th Congress, U.S. Representative Will R. Wood and U.S. Senator James E. Watson introduced companion resolutions to establish a George Rogers Clark Sesquicentennial Commission and expend federal funds on a memorial at Vincennes. The Joint Committee of the Library conducted a series of hearings on the measure. Headed by the powerful U.S. senator from Ohio, Simeon Fess, who initially opposed the idea, the committee offered a hostile venue for advocates of federal participation. [34]

Yet there was much prominent support for the idea. A parade of famous and distinguished people testified at the hearings. These included historians Ross Lockridge, a major Indiana figure, and J. Franklin Jameson, one of the most distinguished professional historians of that era; both senators from Indiana, Watson and Arthur R. Robinson; Logan Hay, the president of the Lincoln Centennial Association, and the former governor of Minnesota, A. O. Eberhart. Others, including famed author Booth Tarkington, noted historian Charles A. Beard, and the commissioner of major league baseball, the autocratic and powerful Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, all wrote letters to support the project, while Indiana newspapers and the New York Times advocated the proposal in editorials. [35]

The hearings produced the first comprehensive proposal to turn Vincennes into the commemorative center for the history of the Old Northwest. The Clark Committee in Vincennes previously hired a New York architect, H. Van Buren Magonigle, to design a plan for the site of Fort Sackville. Magonigle brought a site plan to Fess' committee that showed a Lincoln Memorial Bridge across the Wabash River and a "Hall of History", which depicted the Old Northwest from its inception into the twentieth century. The hall would be located on the site of Fort Sackville. Magonigle estimated a cost of $1,376, 858 for the entire project, a sum presumably sufficiently significant to delay, if not deter, action on the proposal. [36] Despite the outpouring of support, the 69th Congress failed to act on the proposal before the short session adjourned. The efforts of Indiana citizens would have to await the next Congress.

The state Clark Commission was determined not to let the proposal languish. At the behest of the commission, Ewing Emison went to Washington, D.C., to pursue his existing dialogue with President Calvin Coolidge. Emison first had discussed the project with Coolidge following the election of 1924. He again approached the Oval Office after the formation of the Indiana memorial commission, securing the notoriously parsimonious Coolidge's agreement that the Clark memorial was a meritorious proposition. In November 1927, Emison again went to see the President to secure support. Coolidge promised to express his approval of the project in his initial message to the 70th Congress. [37]

In the midst of an era of great prosperity and optimism, the support of a president who rarely favored government expenditures carried considerable weight. In his December 5, 1927, message, Coolidge told Congress that the importance of Clark's expedition was "too little known and understood. . . . The Federal Government may well make some provision for the erection, under its own management, of a fitting memorial . . ." [38] Coolidge's message invited the Indiana delegation to again pursue the idea of a federal presence at the former site of Fort Sackville.

Again Senator Watson and Representative Wood took the initiative. Within weeks, they submitted bills in both houses of Congress that were similar to the ones proffered during the 69th session. Wood added a funding measure that would make $1,750,000 available for a national memorial at Vincennes, $250,000 of which would be designated for the pageant that local advocates conceived in the Vincennes gymnasium in 1926. The Committee of the Library held new hearings, and representatives of the state commission again pled their case. On February 9, 1928, the committee favorably recommended the resolution to Congress. [39]

Passage of the bill in the Senate presented difficult issues. Under Senate rules, one objection to the hearing of a bill would cause its deferral. Sen. William King of Utah was a well-known obstacle to any memorial measures. He took pride in having voted against every resolution involving a public celebration since the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition in 1904. To no one's surprise, when the bill came before the Senate, King voiced his objection.

Again advocates were prepared. First to speak in favor of the resolution and to urge King to withdraw his objection was the minority leader, Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas. Senator William C. Bruce of Maryland was next, followed by Senator Watson. The bill's sponsor reminded the Senate of the national significance of the project. Seeing himself in an overwhelming minority, King withdrew his objection. On February 24, 1928, the Senate unanimously passed the George Rogers Clark proposal. [40]

Although Senate passage was only the first step toward the creation of a Clark memorial, it sparked a celebration in Vincennes. By 1:45 P.M., word of the passage of the bill reached town, and a cacophony followed. Church bells rang, factory whistles blew, and giant firecrackers exploded along Main Street. The Vincennes Sun, one of two local newspapers, received more than 100 telephone calls about the bill. [41] It seemed to the people of Vincennes that their efforts had succeeded. From their perspective, no reasonable person could oppose them and a meritorious cause had been upheld.

Senator King had offered a principled objection, but it was one that in this instance, his colleagues did not share. During the 1920s, Republican administrations were characterized by a laissez-faire view of the responsibilities of government. This meant almost no intervention in domestic economic affairs and only a little involvement in social affairs. Unlike the aggressive Republicans of the Progressive Era two decades before, 1920s Republicans generally eschewed the symbolic functions of government. The unanimous support of the U.S. Senate for the memorial measure was an anomaly that indicated how important the Clark story was to the nation and reflected the importance of the State of Indiana in Republican politics.

The larger U.S. House of Representatives presented a different kind of challenge. With a two-year election cycle, U.S. representatives were more vulnerable to charges of frivolous spending than were senators with the luxury of six-year terms. When the bill came to the floor of the House, members reduced the appropriation for the memorial from $1.75 million to $1 million. The altered measure passed on May 7, 1928, necessitating a conference committee. Although Culbertson and House advocates of the bill were confident they could arrange to restore the eliminated funding, they had little success. House conferees would not yield, and the $1 million sum remained as the appropriation. On May 23, 1928, with Culbertson and Representative Wood present, President Coolidge signed the bill establishing the George Rogers Clark Sesquicentennial Commission. Culbertson received the gold pen with which the president affixed his signature to the document. [42]

The fifteen-member federal commission was made up of three members of the U.S. Senate, Watson, Fess, and Senator Kenneth D. McKellar of Tennessee; three members of the U.S. House, Wood, Representatives Albert H. Vestal of Indiana and Ralph Gilbert of Kentucky; three presidential appointees, Emison, Sallie Hert of Kentucky, and Luther E. Smith of Missouri; and six members appointed by the Indiana George Rogers Clark Memorial Commission: Culbertson, Clem J. Richards, former Indianapolis mayor and U.S. Senator Thomas Taggart, Anne Studebaker Carlisle, Lee Bums, and Lew O'Bannon. [43] Again the mix of the committee reflected necessary knowledge and skills and the need for political influence and power and again the commission embodied existing rivalries in Vincennes, for both Culbertson and Emison were members. The ability to develop a project worthy of the goals of the people involved hinged on their ability to work together.

The establishment of the federal commission and its $1 million appropriation created tripartite responsibility for the proposed memorial. The local committee and the state commission still had unfulfilled missions, and with the addition of the federal commission, a need for some kind of coordination arose. Clearly the local and state committees had a more limited charge than did the federal commission, for neither of them had access to the kind of funding Congress had appropriated. The result was a division of responsibilities, in which the local committee took the lead in assuring local participation, the state commission worked the statehouse in Indianapolis, and the federal commission planned the memorial itself.

By the end of 1928, the federal commission had begun to organize. Its members planned an architectural design contest for the memorial, selecting the architectural firm of Bennett, Parsons, and Frost of Chicago as consultant to the commission. William E. Parsons, one of the principals of the firm, and C. W. Farrier brought drawings of their vision of the grounds to the April 1929 meeting of the commission in the U.S. Senate Library Committee meeting room. Chairman Charles Moore of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission found the plans pleasing, even at the estimated cost of $450,000 and the commission planned an architectural competition for design of the memorial itself. [44]

The commission sought a design that reflected both the importance of George Rogers Clark and the economic wealth of the United States. Similar to most public buildings of the era, the memorial was to inspire and impress, to articulate in its style, lines, and material the power and prowess of this aspect of national heritage. Buildings were the fashion for such memorials, a fact reflected in the guidelines for the competition. Murals and a portrait statue of Clark were part of the specifications of the contest. So were memorials to Francis Vigo and Oliver Pollock, which were to be located near the bridge, and one to Father Gibault, which was to face the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. [45]

The competition itself was typical of such architectural endeavors. The commission convened a five-member Jury of Award, made up of commission members Culbertson, Smith, and Bums, and two noted architects, William M. Kendall of McKim, Meade, and White of New York City, and John L. Mauran of Mauran, Russell, and Crowell of New York City. The identities of those submitting designs would be concealed from judges until they made their selection. Six nationally known architects were paid $2,500 to enter, while others entered at their own expense. Competitors had to sign a declaration of intent to enter by September 15, 1929; the closing date for submission of final plans was January 10, 1930. [46]

When the jury convened in early February 1930, fifty-one designs awaited it. Familiar with the site on which the memorial would be located, the jury spent more than two days evaluating the submissions. Selecting number twenty-eight, the jury sent Culbertson to the national Commission of Fine Arts for approval of the design. The commission agreed with the selection, and on February 14, 1930, Senator Fess opened sealed envelope twenty-eight. In it was the business card of Frederick C. Hirons of Hirons and Mellor of New York City, an experienced architect who specialized in classical designs for museums and banks and who in 1928 won the American Society of Beaux Arts design competition for its headquarters in New York City. [47]

Funds for the project still presented a major problem. Only $550,000 of the original $1 million appropriation remained after expenses and the payment of $400,000 for design of the grounds, and the chances for the additional $750,000 originally requested were damaged by the changed economic climate. Between the beginning of the contract and the judging, the United States had experienced a pivotal moment. In September 1929, the stock market began a precipitous decline; on "Black Thursday," October 24, prices collapsed as more than 13 million shares were sold. The following Tuesday, "Black Tuesday," another 16 million shares were sold at declining prices. By the middle of November, more than $30 billion of wealth had been wiped out. The new economic climate forced the commission to consider contingencies. Congress might not restore the funds deleted from the original legislation. Although Fess believed it would be "a shame to emasculate" Hirons' plan, he recognized the possibility that such an eventuality might occur. If Congress would not provide additional funds, then the plan would have to be scaled down. [48]

There were other potential problems that had to be solved before Hirons' design could be turned into a structure. Besides the contracts that needed to be let, a significant amount of money had to be appropriated and the purchase of much land was essential. The responsibility for acquiring the land on which the memorial would stand fell to the local and state organizations. State commission members sought approval from the Indiana General Assembly for a one-year extension of the existing four-mill tax to raise funds for land acquisition. Although the General Assembly passed the measure, the incoming governor, Harry J. Leslie, refused to sign the bill into law. Governor Leslie blamed strife in the Indiana Commission for his opposition, suggesting that a power play that occurred in June 1928 and led to the replacement of Fortune by Culbertson as head of the commission created a delay that allowed real estate prices to rise. Firm in his objections, he thwarted fund-raising efforts at the state level. Without that support, advocates had to design a new strategy to accomplish land acquisition goals. [49]

The Knox County Council and the City of Vincennes were the targets of the strategy. Headed by Culbertson, a number of Vincennes area businesspeople approached the council in September 1929 with a request for $100,000 to support land acquisition. The strongest arguments available to Culbertson were the $1 million appropriation by the U.S. Congress and expenditures of the Indiana Commission in Knox County; clearly, he insisted, each governmental entity had to contribute its share. Council members and county commissioners all agreed, appropriating $100,000 to complete acquisition by authorizing a small surcharge for every $100 of taxes paid. After succeeding with the county, Culbertson and his friends approached the City of Vincennes, where the city council added $100,000 to the coffers of the commission. By the end of January 1930, southern Indiana had supported the Clark memorial project with a sizable portion of its discretionary revenue. [50]

Two other venues remained, the federal government and the state. Culbertson still coveted the remaining $750,000 that had been deleted from the original federal legislation. With the contributions of southern Indiana guaranteed, he returned to Washington, D.C., to battle for more federal funds. Although the acquisition process remained slow, Senator Fess, head of the Joint Committee of the Library, was pleased with the amount of funding generated at the local level. When Rep. Albert Vestal introduced a bill in the House during the first session of the 71st Congress, Fess' committee conducted hearings on it. [51]

But the change in the economic climate in the nation dimmed chances for further funding. After the stock market crash of October 1929, federal lawmakers became hesitant about funding many kinds of projects, particularly those that seemed frivolous or had little economic merit. This stemmed from the fear which the crash had caused, the lack of available money as a result of the decline in tax revenue that followed the economic collapse, and the aversion of the Republican administration to appropriations for anything that smacked of government intervention in the economy. President Herbert C. Hoover, who followed Coolidge in office, drew clear distinctions about the role of the federal government in even hard economic times. The economy was "fundamentally sound," he told the nation in the aftermath of the Wall Street debacle, and he sincerely believed that if the nation did not panic, the invisible hand of the market soon would correct its problems.

This proved to be wishful thinking. Instead of rebounding, the American economy continued to falter, and Congress became reluctant to appropriate additional money for projects with even the patriotic connotations of the Clark memorial. Although the Joint Committee of the Library held hearings on Vestal's bill in February 1930 and Senator Watson introduced a bill in the Senate, the Senate did not pass the bill June 28. Opponents of such spending delayed the House bill, which did not reach the House floor before the session ended. The plans of advocates had been thwarted by economic catastrophe. [52]

Although advocates worried that the plan was doomed, the "defeat" was only a delay. When the 71st Congress reconvened in December 1930, the House Committee of the Library still held Vestal's bill. During deliberations on the floor of the House, the requested $750,000 was reduced to $500,000. House conferees on the joint committee prevented a restoration of the remainder of the request, but Clark memorial advocates won a concession when the committee agreed to make the money available immediately instead of requiring a separate appropriation. This released $300,000 for the memorial; the remaining $200,000 was held until the commission received documentation that the amount was matched by the state, county, or city. Culbertson's work in southern Indiana already had secured that amount, and within a year of Hoover's signing of the legislation on March 2, 1931, the entire sum was available for the project. [53]

With the new federal support, the position of Governor Leslie became increasingly difficult to defend. Federal, county, and local officials had all agreed to fund the project. Nearly $2 million had been set aside for the memorial, but the State of Indiana had played only a small role. Faced with a situation that made the state appear dilatory and uninterested, Governor Leslie signed into law a measure from the state assembly that levied a one-and-one-half mill tax on each $100 of assessed property for one year. Although a compromise — for the new levy was less than half of the four-mill tax passed in 1929 —Governor Leslie's signature created additional funds for the project. By the end of 1932, the money necessary to build the project had been set aside. [54]

The change in both federal and state attitudes reflected the dire situation during the Depression. Although Hoover initially believed that the economic crisis soon would be over, it lingered on. Despite his aversion to an activist government in economic affairs, Hoover advocated some kinds of federal spending; the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which received more than $400 million for public works projects, offered the most prominent example. [55] But small isolated projects such as the Clark memorial also could find favor even in the depths of the Depression. The attitude of state leaders was similar.

The promise of local and county funding seemed to assure more federal money; it also permitted the commission to proceed with details such as sculptures and paintings for the memorial. On August 22, 1930, Hirons brought the work of sculptors Charles Keck and Hermon A. MacNeil and muralists Eugene Savage and Ezra Winter to a meeting of the executive committee. At a subsequent meeting, the committee decided that they preferred Winter's work, and on October 2, 1930, the forty-four-year-old muralist met with the committee. By the end of the day, he had a preliminary contract for seven murals for the interior of the rotunda. [56]

Winter and the commission chose specific themes for the murals. The seven-picture sequence included five murals depicting Clark's expedition — titled The Wilderness Road, Clark Treating with the Indians at Cahokia, The March on Vincennes, The Attack on Fort Sackville, and Fort Sackville-Britain Yields Possession — and two more of its consequences, The Proclamation of the Northwest Ordinance at Marietta (Ohio), and Taking Possession for the United States of the Louisiana Territory at St. Louis. Covering both the story of Clark's expedition and its importance in the development of the nation, the mural sequence further illustrated the national significance of the Clark adventure. [57]

Winter was an easy choice; selecting between the two sculptors Hirons had recommended was more difficult. After long discussions in which no decision was reached, the executive committee of the commission went to New York City to view firsthand the work of the two sculptors. On November 19, they visited Keck and MacNeil in their studios. When they returned to Indiana, they had developed a preference for MacNeil. On December 1, 1930, the full commission agreed to hire MacNeil to sculpt the statuary for the memorial. [58]

The guarantee of federal funding facilitated the contracting process for construction of the memorial. Although state interests, in particular the limestone industry, argued for the exclusive use of local materials in the project, the commission retained the standards it originally established. This made as much as two-thirds of the aggregate stone in the building native to Indiana. Numerous contractors responded to the contract, for the depressed economic climate meant that few projects of the size of the Clark memorial would come throughout an entire year. Sixteen firms submitted proposals, and three were proffered to the commission. The W. R. Heath Construction Company of Greencastle, Indiana, won with a final bid of $773,800 for a Stanstead granite exterior and an Indiana limestone interior above the wainscoting. The Heath Company was familiar in Vincennes for the completion of a recent Knox County Courthouse renovation project. The project was given to the Heath Company after the death of the first contractor. [59]

The losing contractors were not prepared to accept the decision and a number challenged the award. The Stanstead Company, which was to supply the granite, was a Canadian company, inspiring much nationalistic ire at the height of economic doldrums. Although not one of the finalists, officials of the Premier Company of Vincennes and Indianapolis cabled Senator Fess when they heard the news. "Your records show our firm is low bidder for Woodbury granite," the message read, "and therefore is entitled to the contract." A. E. Kemmer, another of the finalists, also cabled Fess. "I direct your attention to my status as low bidder for American materials." Watson called on the commission to reconsider the contract, and Fess, stunned and chagrined by the charges, told the press that if the Stanstead firm quarried its granite in Canada and shipped it on Canadian railways, the contract would be void. But, Fess insisted, the memorial would be built of granite. [60]

Fess also sent a team to northern Connecticut to sort out the confusion. The inspectors found that on June 12, 1931, the Woodbury Granite Company leased a large quarry at Woodbury, Connecticut, to the Stanstead Granite Quarries. The leased area contained more than sufficient granite to complete the memorial within the time specified. In addition, the material would be shipped entirely on American railroads and would be prepared by American workers. Only in one instance, when unfinished granite from the Woodbury quarries was shipped to the Beebe Plain plant that the Stanstead Company ran on the international boundary, would the material pass outside of the United States and then only for 8,000 feet. [61]

Fess' representatives brought this information to what quickly became an acrimonious meeting of the commission in the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Meeting Room in Washington, D.C. Warren Austin, U. S. senator from Vermont, supported the investigators, but Representative Wood suspected fraud because the commission had been shown a sample of Canadian rather than American granite. The attorney for the Heath Company, S.C. Kivett, accused Wood and Watson of catering to the Indiana limestone industry. Finally, after nearly five hours of heated debate, Watson offered a motion to void the contract. The motion was defeated by a vote of nine to six. Watson held four proxies — from Hert, Emison, Ball, and Vestal; he, his four proxies, and Wood voted to abrogate the contract; Fess, U.S. Representative Arthur H. Greenwood of Indiana, who held McKellar's proxy, Culbertson, Smith, Burns, O'Bannon, Father Gavisk, and Richards formed a majority of nine. The Heath contract stood and construction could begin. [62]

After all the decisions were finalized, the project proceeded smoothly. Within two years, the Heath Company built the memorial, Hirons quickly inspected and approved it, and at the end of May 1933, the commission accepted it. In December 1934, Winter arrived in Vincennes to mount the murals, kept secretly in town for the previous few days. Beginning on December 4, the murals were hung in a process that lasted until December 13. On December 7, after the stone that would surround the plaque in the floor of the memorial was placed and a pedestal for the statue was positioned, the statue of George Rogers Clark, dressed in the uniform of a Continental Army officer (instead of, as the Vincennes Sun-Commercial reported on December 9, the "tattered nondescript uniform of the Indian fighter") was situated in the rotunda. Thus the structure itself was complete. [63]

There were other aspects of the memorial that awaited additional funding. Statues to commemorate Francis Vigo, Oliver Pollock and Father Gibault also had been part of the original conception. The Francis Vigo Memorial Association had been particularly active, but until additional funds had been secured, there was little the commission could do. Continued lobbying generated an additional $250,000 in congressional appropriations in 1933, and the commission quickly appropriated some of that money for the two additional statues. In January 1934, two sculptors, Albin Polasek of Chicago and John Angel of New York, were selected — Polasek for a statue of Father Gibault for the plaza in front of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and Angel for a statue of Vigo that would be located along the flood wall. [64]

Both sculptors worked quickly. In less than two months, on March 19, 1934, both brought their conceptions to the committee. Polasek's model depicted Father Gibault standing with his face looking toward the sky, both hands pressed against his body, one containing a crucifix, the other a scroll. The committee approved the design. Angel's model depicted Vigo as a full-length statue, but the committee changed its request and asked for a model of Vigo seated. In June 1934, Angel was given a contract for the Vigo statue. [65]

The two statues were located on the grounds within two years. Polasek's Gibault was first positioned in June 1935, but it required some alterations at the nearby Vincennes Foundry and Machine Company. By July 3, it was back in place in the Old Cathedral Plaza. Angel was delayed by a strike of stonecutters, but on April 29, 1936, the statue arrived with an anxious sculptor twelve hours behind. With a reporter, Angel rushed off to check the condition of the statue. With a flashlight, the two determined that the statue had arrived safely. On May 4, it was properly positioned. [66]

The two statues completed the conception of the memorial first discussed nearly a decade before. By 1936, innumerable efforts to secure funding for the project had been initiated, many of which succeeded. The memorial rotunda was completed, replete with a statue of Clark and murals depicting his expedition. Additional statues of figures associated with the episode were in place, and little additional funding seemed likely. What had been built was not everything that advocates wanted when they began the process, but the results were quite impressive.

Yet the national meaning of the George Rogers Clark Memorial needed some kind of public affirmation. Congress had invested a considerable amount of money over an extended period, but the memorial was a freestanding entity. Since the process began late in the 1920s, most historic places of national importance had been consolidated under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Beginning in August 1933, the agency assumed responsibility for a wide range of historic places to accompany its long list of natural and archeological areas. With federal preservation located so completely in one agency and with the conception of national importance so closely tied to the areas administered by that agency, the George Rogers Clark Memorial lacked a claim on the national consciousness. Its iconography had great meaning, but it seemed apart from the administrative structure designed to advance it.

The initial plans made in February 1936 called for a June dedication of the George Rogers Clark Memorial. In an effort to gather as much attention and cultural significance for the place as possible, advocates beseeched President Franklin D. Roosevelt to participate in its dedication. When Roosevelt accepted the invitation, scheduling had to reflect his availability. June 7, 1936, was the first date selected, but President Roosevelt had to request a change until the following Sunday, June 14. His planned Arkansas-Texas-Indiana train trip only became feasible with Indiana as the last leg. Because he had a second speech scheduled in Kentucky the day of the dedication, Roosevelt planned only a ninety-minute stay in Vincennes. The schedule upset the committee, and its chairman, Clem Richards, wired the president directly. U.S. Senator Frederick Van Nuys of Indiana, himself a Democrat, also lobbied the president, but without success. Roosevelt's schedule remained firm [67]

The ceremony worked to perfection. The presidential train arrived at the Union Depot in Vincennes right on schedule at 9 A.M. on June 14. Governor Paul V. McNutt of Indiana and Governor Henry Horner of Illinois welcomed the president and the First Lady, and the official party rode a Packard to the memorial grounds. There an estimated 50,000 people waited to hear the president. The audience included all the principals in the project from committee members to sculptors and painters. Roosevelt gave a vintage speech, championing the conservation of resources and echoing Clark's own 1778 Kaskaskia speech in favor of religious toleration. The president urged that the nation rearm against "new devices of crime and cupidity." As the applause subsided, the presidential party departed for the train station and headed to Louisville. Eleanor Roosevelt stayed on, attending the subsequent dedications of the Gibault and Vigo statues and traveling with Governor Horner to a farmers' picnic in Grayville, Illinois, where she addressed an audience. [68]

The president's stay was brief, but significant. Roosevelt's presence gave the monument a stamp of approval, an indication that the memorial really was of national importance. The Clark commemoration movement, initiated at the behest of a few local people, had become a huge, attractive memorial in remembrance of a formative event in the history of the nation. Almost $3 million had gone into the project, two-thirds of it federal, an astonishing sum in the economic climate of the 1930s.

In fact, the Depression and the New Deal probably helped further the George Rogers Clark Memorial. When the idea was first conceived during the late 1920s, government took a dim view of such investment of its revenues. The Depression highlighted the need for public works, but the real innovations came during Roosevelt's administration. The federal programs inaugurated in 1933 transformed the role of government throughout the nation, creating a safety net for those who could not find work and also opportunities in publicly funded projects for those who could find a job. When the Clark memorial was conceived, it was an anomaly; by the time it was completed, it was one of a series of built monuments, the most notable of which became the planned Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, which commemorated the American western frontier. What made the George Rogers Clark Memorial anomalous in 1936 was not its existence, but rather its freestanding status — not being a part of the jurisdiction of the federal agency created to manage such places. That independence — and the bifurcated responsibility that accompanied it — was the source of most of the problems associated with the memorial during its first thirty years of existence.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006