This impressive and historic statue is located at the intersection of Ridge and Main Streets in Charlottesville, and commemorates the 1803-1806 journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The statue has a brick walk and shrubs surrounding it, and visitors can view it anytime, though most clearly during the day.
The statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea was sculpted by Charles Keck, who was a prominent sculptor of his day. The statue was commissioned by Paul Goodloe McIntire and given to the citizens of Charlottesville in 1919. The statue is located in a prominent historic and geographic position in Charlottesville that predates the settlement of the town. The present day Main Street was once called Three Notch’d Road, and was constructed in the 1730’s by improving an old Monacan Indian trail to allow travel between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. During the Civil War, Midway Hospital was located just to the east of the statue, on the grounds of what is now Midway Manor Apartments. Midway School was built on that same site in 1893. Midway School served only white public school students, while nearby Jefferson School on 4th Street(still standing) served African American students. Midway Park, the site of the statue, was considered part of the school, and was a very different place in 1919 than it is now. Pedestrians thronged the streets instead of cars, and Midway Park was a common, familiar, (and slightly larger) public space, not isolated by automobile traffic.
The idea of creating a memorial to Lewis and Clark began in 1912 when new owners of the local railway proposed adding trees and shrubbery to Midway Park as part of a general civic improvement project. Paul Goodloe McIntire eventually responded to the pleas of prominent citizens and funded the statue, to be sculpted by Charles Keck, a major figure within the National Sculpture Society.
The statue itself is placed upon a block of pink granite, the base of which includes an inscription describing the explorers and their lofty mission. The figures of Lewis, Clark and Sacajewea face west, and are considered historically accurate with lovely proportions and beautiful details. To appreciate the statue fully, the visitor should look carefully at the base of the statue, where the written descriptions are supplemented by carvings which represent significant aspects of their journey. These include a buffalo hunt, tribal council, lines representing a river, the American eagle and the seals of both the United States and the state of Virginia. The statue represents not only the first public depiction of the famous Corps of Discovery in Charlottesville, but expresses the popular sentiments of the day towards the general themes of exploration, national purpose and conquest of the wilderness of North America.
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