George Washington is about to get a makeover in Morristown

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The General and his trusty steed were beginning to look … forlorn, according to Morristown Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman.

And so she has rallied a volunteer militia to spruce up the 1928 monument island at Morris Street and Washington Avenue.

George Washington is about to get some home improvements
CHEER UP, GENERAL. The Morristown traffic island where George Washington keeps watch is about to get a makeover. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

This week the town will remove old and overgrown plantings, Rebecca said. A landscaping plan has been created by Carolle Huber, the landscape architect who co-founded both community gardens in town.

New plantings will be installed, and maintained for at least a year, by Home Properties Inc., owners of Jacob Ford Village. Look for Florida dogwoods, winterberry holly, oakleaf hydrangeas and happy returns daylillies.

Star-Lo Electric will donate material and labor to replace failed lighting, to illuminate the statue and a sign donated by the Washington’s Headquarters Neighborhood Association.

Rebecca said it’s merely a coincidence that all this coincides with renovations to Morris Avenue. She has been working on the statue project for a year, she said.

The triangle island sits on the place where historians believe Washington’s guards encamped during the winter of 1779-80, when the General stayed nearby at the Ford Mansion.

The bronze statue was cast in Florence, Italy, and dedicated on the 147th anniversary of the British surrender at Yorktown, Oct. 19, 1928. The piece was designed by Brooklyn-born sculptor George Richard Roth, whose specialty was animals. He did the sled dog “Balto” in New York’s Central Park.

Edward R. Bossange, who was chairman of New York City’s department of architecture, designed the granite pedestal. The land was donated by Henry M. Dodge, and the whole thing was paid for by Ellen Mabel Clark, who spent summers at the “Fairacres” estate on Normandy Parkway.

In her 1978 book, The Public Monuments and Sculpture of Morristown, Virginia Bostock quotes Morristown Topics from February 1928:

This fine equestrian statue is the outgrowth of a childish ambition, for the thought of giving a statue of Washington to Morristown had occurred to Miss Clark as a little girl. As the years went by and the want was not met by any other patriotic citizen, Miss Clark from time to time considered how she might best accomplish her desire. Two or three years ago in New York, while taking her daily walk with her dogs, she met a wonderful horse drawing a Sheffield Farm milk wagon, and it occurred to her that a horse of this powerful build was the ideal type for Washington’s mount. Mr. F.G.R. Roth, who had made bronze portraits of Miss Clark’s dogs and whose fine work had been known to her for some time, was selected to be sculptor. Motion pictures were then taken of the horse in many different positions, and these pictures were used by Mr. Roth in modeling the powerful and handsome horse in the statue…Morristown owes a debt of gratitude to Miss Clark and Doctor Dodge for their generosity, patriotism, and foresight.

Rebecca still seeks a sponsor to install an underground irrigation system for the plants. Home Properties and the town will handle the watering for now. A ribbon-cutting is anticipated for the spring.

In the meantime, three huzzahs! for all involved.

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