Clark Mills was a major metal-caster in the mid-19th century, known primarily for the capstone on the United States Capitol, the Statue of Freedom. He also cast and sculpted the statue of Lt. Gen. George Washington on his horse, located in Washington, D.C., and he cast and sculpted the initial Andrew Jackson statue, made of melted-down British cannon from the War of 1812, standing in Lafayette Square at the front entrance of the White House.
In Jacksonville, there's a duplicate of this famous statue which is currently being used as a traffic stop, in the middle of a roundabout at the end of Laura Street in Downtown, facing north.
Similar statues stand on the east side of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville and in Jackson Square in New Orleans. Both were duplicates of the original and were placed at their locations in the 19th Century. All are considered works of art and are treated as such. All were designed with a sense of the places where they are located in mind. All were placed on pedestals appropriate to the sites and are parallel to the buildings in front of which they stand. All are well-maintained and have easy access for the public to view, and they honor Andrew Jackson's relationship to the geographic area. In New Orleans and Washington, D.C., the squares in which the Jackson statues are located are accessible to the public. Many people have their pictures taken with the statues as a background. Although this is less true in Nashville, even there, the public has access to the statue. In Jacksonville, because the statue is used as a traffic stop, there's no access for the public, no sense of space and no sense of honor accorded to the statue.
Jacksonville, named for Andrew Jackson by city fathers when he was Florida's provisional governor, didn't have any representations of him, except for one portrait in City Hall and images of the Washington statue on the city seal and flag.
The City Hall image, painted in 1967, was lent to Players by the Sea for a promotion for a play based partially on the life of Jackson.
In the 1980s, responding to urging from various citizens of Jacksonville, Rep. Charles Bennett requested that the National Park Service make a molding of the statue in Lafayette Square, which was done at a cost of $90,000. The statue was paid for by Bennett and contributed to the city of Jacksonville, and was placed, with his input, on the west side of The Jacksonville Landing. It was Bennett's gift to the city to honor the city's namesake and to thank the citizens for allowing him to provide many years of service. Bennett, as we know, had a well-developed sense of history, especially the history of this area.
At the time of the placement of the statue, which followed discussion with the mayor's office on the best place to locate it, text was placed on the front of the statue, reading "Andrew Jackson, After Whom Jacksonville Was Named, 1822." Text on the back of the statue read, "Andrew Jackson, First Governor of Florida Under the United States Flag, 1821." Following relocation of the statue to its new location, about which there was little public discussion, there has been minimal maintenance of the statue.
The current location of the statue is designed not to honor the namesake of our community, but to slow traffic coming down Laura Street. Instead of running parallel to the building in front of which it sits, it runs perpendicular and is not spatially compatible with the buildings on three sides of it. In short, in contrast to the other three statues of Jackson, this one is not used to honor him. In Jacksonville, the city that is named after him, Jackson has become an object to slow traffic. The current location could also be considered an insult to Bennett, who made the effort to ensure Jacksonville had a statue of the man for whom the city is named.
Currently, the bronze of the statue needs polishing and cleaning, and repairs to the bridle and the chain on Jackson's saber are needed. Recently, through volunteer efforts, some attempts have been made at landscaping and beautification of this "mini" traffic circle.
The statue of Andrew Jackson, for whom this city is named, should be relocated. The greensward in front of the new Duval County Courthouse, which is currently without landscaping, would be an alternative place for the relocation, as part of the continued beautification of that area. The center of the Rotunda of the new courthouse is another. Another good location would be at a renewed Hemming Plaza. There are other places also that would honor the city, Jackson and Bennett, who brought this sculpture to Jacksonville.
For the greater part of the life of the city of Jacksonville, statues or other public art were never priorities. Bennett was concerned that there were few markers or monuments honoring Jacksonville's past. The current city public arts ordinance did not come into being until more than 10 years after Bennett honored the city with this piece of public art. In fact, since Jacksonville was named after Jackson, there have been no pieces of public art in the form of likeness sculptures, and certainly none cast by the man who also cast the capstone of Freedom on the U.S. Capitol.
With the advent of the new courthouse, we have a suggested location for this statue of Andrew Jackson in a place of honor, recognizing that the city is named for him, as well as recognizing and honoring the effort of Bennett in bringing this statue, one of only four, to our city. Other places may also be appropriate. A sculpture that is nationally recognized and taken from the original cast created in the 19th century certainly shouldn't be a traffic stop.
At a time in the history of this city when the goal is to become a first-tier city and hailed for being progressive, using a statue of its namesake as a traffic stop is an insult and an obstacle to achieving the greatness to which it aspires.
Bowers is an amateur southern historian who was an appointed official for three mayorsand a governor. He cohosts SALTAIR with Currently with Dick Brown on 1600 AM WZNZ noon-1 p.m. Thursdays.