Illinois Centennial Monument Celebration Speech
Address from Logan Square and the Illinois Centennial Monument, Chicago
by Ward Miller, October 14, 2018
It is with great honor that I stand here today, as a member of the community of Logan Square and on behalf of our organization, Preservation Chicago, along with several of our elected officials from the City of Chicago–Alderman Scott Waguespack, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and all of you, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Illinois Centennial Monument. This is perhaps the beginning of the yearlong kick-off of the State of Illinois’ Bicentennial, celebrating two hundred years of contributions to “The Union” and The United States of America. In this local celebration, leading up to the actual anniversary day of December 3 rd, 1818, noted in the record books as the official date when Illinois was admitted as the 21 st State to the Union, we collectively look forward to the next century, while honoring the past.
This grand-scale Monument, which is a symbol of Illinois statehood and officially known as the Illinois Centennial Monument, has become the symbol of our neighborhood of Logan Square over the past one hundred years. It is located at the heart of both the commercial and residential center of the community and commands a highly visible location at the grand northwest terminus of the Chicago Boulevard System. It is indeed very special to both our community and the City of Chicago, and of course the State of Illinois.
Designed for this site in 1915, by the architect, Henry Bacon and “sculptured to life” by Evelyn Longman, with its bas-reliefs and toped with an American Eagle—“The Monument” as it is known to us in the community, predated the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington D.C., also designed by architect Henry Bacon. That famous landmark and monument was also designed by architect Henry Bacon and in tandem with artist and sculptor Daniel Chester French. Both of these monuments continue to be recognized for their fine quality design; craftsmanship, artistry and both are landmarks in their own right.
The large Doric column of the Illinois Centennial Monument, one of the most recognized features of the overall design, was constructed of marble, to the same proportions as the many rows of marble columns surrounding the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. That fine quality ancient structure, considered by some to be a most perfect proportioned building, with the most notable sculpture, also represented a much earlier democracy of the ancient world. Together with the column, topped with an American Bald Eagle, serves as a connection between two democracies, and two refined civilizations—one ancient and one contemporary —or modern day. This concept is even expressed and reflected in the bronze light standards, where the sculptural bases of mature acanthus leaves extend upward and sprout into bamboo stalks—or new growth, perhaps a subtle representation of the United States as the new Republic.
The Illinois Centennial Monument was commissioned and funded by the Benjamin Ferguson Monument Fund, administered by The Art Institute of Chicago. Ferguson, a wealthy Chicago industrialist, made his fortune and wealth in the lumber business, much like many other noteworthy Chicagoans of the nineteenth century. Upon his death in 1905, was created a special fund, said to be valued at one-million dollars, and was dedicated to the creation and maintenance of monuments, statues and sculptures for Chicago. His estate noted that these sculptures and statues were to be placed “along the boulevards or in public places within the City of Chicago, Illinois commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events of American history.”
This resulted in many noteworthy commissions funded by the Ferguson Fund, including the “Fountain of the Great Lakes” in the courtyard of The Art Institute of Chicago and “The Fountain of Time”—on the Midway Plaisance, both by artist, Lorado Taft. The statue of the Republic in Jackson Park, by artist Daniel Chester French and the Mestrovic bowed “Indians” in Grant Park, to name several examples.
The historic public square, on which we stand today, later known as Logan Square, was originally conceived as part of a larger boulevard system idea in 1869. Construction of this system extended continuously through the city, as funds were available into the mid-to-late 1890s, when this particular parcel of land was created. This inner-city pastoral drive became known as “The Chicago Boulevard System”—extending some 29 miles and thought of as a passive carriage drive, envisioned to circle the City of Chicago and connect many of the larger urban parks with the Lakefront. Designed as a complete vision by Chicago architect, William LeBaron Jenney—the “Father of the Skyscraper,” it was later refined over time, with portions of the West Parks System plantings by the famous landscape architect, Jens Jensen. Upon its completion, this Chicago Boulevard System became a remarkable feature of a 19 th century industrial city.
This rectangular parcel of land near the Northwest terminus of this system was dedicated as Logan Square, named in honor of Civil War General and politician, John A. Logan (1826-1886), from Downstate Illinois—who marched with both Generals Sherman and Grant in many battles during the American Civil War. General Logan became a resident of Chicago, in the years following the War, and resided on Chicago’s near South Side, at 2119 S. Calumet, near the Prairie Avenue Historic District.
In about 1914, Logan Square was selected as a site for this new monument, honoring 100 years of Illinois’ contributions to the Union, and a grand monument to statehood. The Logan Square site selected was at that at the time the rival to so many other locations throughout Chicago and the State of Illinois. So, from the humble of beginnings of a Native American hunting trail and the establishment of Northwest Plank Road–now known as Milwaukee Avenue, and a somewhat remote farming community, established as of the towns of Jefferson and Maplewood—a prairie of sorts, settled by Martin Kimbell and his family, William Powell and Homer Pennock, and educators like John Stehman to modern day Logan Square, and the site of a marvelous and majestic monument honoring the State of Illinois. What a great achievement and destination place this site would become.
Let us not forget, that The Illinois Centennial Monument was created, built and dedicated during World War I—and with daily counts of young men lost to the tragedies of war, which is never a good option. The height of patriotism was perhaps never felt with such fervor or in such a way—at least not since the Civil War of the 1860s. Pictures of lost soldiers–heroes of our country, but really young boys—painfully graced the newspapers each day—counting losses, with many from Chicago.
It was in this realm and spirit that this Monument was constructed and celebrated. It was dedicated in a celebration, which commenced at the famous Auditorium Theater in Downtown Chicago, which still stands today. The grand theater and hotel of its age, by Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan, kicked off the celebration and with a spectacular program, followed by a grand parade of thousands, eventually reaching the community and the Illinois Centennial Monument at Logan Square. The Monument was dedicated by Governor Lowden, complete with marching bands, during what was perhaps the middle of the First World War in Europe—which really placed America’s might on the world’s stage. It is almost unimaginable what level of patriotism, enthusiasm, inspiration and yet concern for the future must have been present on that day –100 years ago in 1918.
On this day—and in these coming months and years—let us look upon this Monument with the proud achievement of 200 years of Illinois history and that of the great city of Chicago—and its great contributions to the world.
— In Architecture
— In the Arts
— In City Planning
— In Structural Engineering Achievements
— In Labor History and both achievements, agreements and laws tied to Unions and the establishment of an 8-hour workday.
— In Water Purity and Engineering Marvels for clean air and water, in part, like the reversal of the Chicago River and the construction of the Illinois Sanitary Canal.
— In the Education of its Citizens and People
— In Culinary Achievements, and celebrating the City’s diversity and also its wholeness—coming together.
— In the richness of its cultures—throughout the city’s history, extending to present day- now and long into the future.
–And in Fairness and Equality for All
Let us rededicate the Monument with a commitment to making Illinois and Chicago a much better place —I ask and we ask of you—All of you!