“… The George Rogers Clark Monument was dedicated before a crowd of some 60,000 on November 16, 1934, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
The man who did the most to save early Kentucky and stir the history of old Fort Harrod during the American Revolution era was George Rogers Clark. His consummate deeds provided a bright chapter in the nation’s history. He was the liberator of Kentucky and one of the commonwealth’s genuine heroes.
The Pioneer Memorial Park Monument was commissioned by the Kentucky Pioneer Association, a local group of Harrodsburg citizens, and on March 3, 1931 the seventy-first Continental Congress passed a bill appropriating $100,000 for the monument to be erected by the War Department to commemorate George Rogers Clark’s campaign during the Revolutionary War. On November 27, Kentucky Governor Flem D. Sampson, dedicated the monument site.
The First Settlement of the West, the name of the monument, was conceived by sculptor Ulric Ellerhusen and architect Francis Keally. LePoidevin & Company of New York was awarded the general contract. On Armistice Day, November 11, the cornerstone was laid by Senator Alben W. Barkley during a ceremony attended by Governor Ruby Laffoon.
On January 12, 1934, work on the federal monument was halted for three weeks because carvers feared their dull tools would break the granite stones. The carvers demanded a tool smith on the ground to sharpen tools, so an expert tool smith, George Webber of Louisville, was found and the carving resumed. Webber established his shop in a shed fronting the carver’s enclosure and began sharpening tools immediately.
During the month of February sodding, planting and landscaping began around the larger monument. F. C. Byers, in charge for Hillenmeyer Nurseries of Lexington, was in charge of landscaping. He followed designs made by Armistead Fitzhugh, a landscape architect from New York City. The planting of the trees and shrubbery would form the background and setting for the federal monument.
The 30 feet long and 12 feet high memorial was finally completed on June 12, 1934. It is composed of three granite blocks cemented together so it appears to be one huge stone. The monument divides naturally into three parts. The central section depicts George Rogers Clark, the pioneer statesman and military leader and weighs twenty-three tons. The right section symbolizes youth and age, with an older man representing famous frontiersmen such as Harrod and Boone. The left section shows a frontier farewell and is symbolic of family life. These stones weigh seventeen tons each. The granite stone inlay map on the walking platform in front shows the pioneer routes involved in Clark’s campaign of the Northwestern Territory.
On November 16, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Harrodsburg to dedicate the Pioneer Memorial. This was Harrodsburg’s greatest day and its proudest celebration. All roads leading into town were choked with traffic. Special trains and busses had been arriving for several days prior, swelling the population to numbers that have never been matched since. The President and Mrs. Roosevelt arrived by train and were welcomed by a town decorated with flags and red, white, and blue bunting everywhere.
The monument’s dedication was national news, with the President’s speech printed on the front page of the New York Times. It marked the culmination of a decades-long effort to bring tourists and attention to Harrodsburg. At a time when Harrodsburg had a population of just over 4,000 residents, an estimated 60,000 people filled the park for the dedication ceremony.
In his remarks, President Roosevelt called for a renewal of the spirit of the American forefathers to face the challenges of the Great Depression. Roosevelt described those in attendance as “the pioneers of 1934.” He proclaimed, “We, too, are hewing out a commonwealth – a commonwealth of the States which we hope will give to its people, more truly than any that has gone before, the fulfillment of security, of freedom, of opportunity and happiness which America asks and is entitled to receive.”