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Panel turns down plan for Lee statue

December 05, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee on Wednesday lost his bid to erect a 24-foot bronze statue of the Confederate leader at Antietam National Battlefield when the Washington County Historic District Commission found the statue was historically inappropriate for the site.

William Chaney of Lothian, Md., had asked the commission to approve the statue of Lee on a horse for his Newcomer House Civil War Museum property off Shepherdstown Pike. The property is on the battlefield site.

The statue depicts Lee holding binoculars, which he used to view the position of his soldiers, Chaney said.

The commission decided in a 3-2 vote that the statue was historically inappropriate for the site because it did not fit the aesthetics of the property, which had been a farmstead during the Civil War.

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"A statue doesn't have anything to do with a farmstead," commission member Merry Stinson said.

Chaney said after the meeting he plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals. He has 30 days to appeal.

Stinson and commission members Jane Hershey and Donald Corbett voted against the statue request. Members Eleanor Lakin and Frank Artz said they didn't have any problem with the statue and said the property had been a mill, not a farm.

Commission member Carla Viar was not at the meeting and Chairman Michael Gehr only votes to break ties, he said.

Hershey said she feared others who owned property at the battlefield would turn it into a "monument park."

Artz, however, said that maybe such a monument would attract more visitors to the battlefield.

Lakin said the National Park Service issued an opinion that the statue would be legal at that location.

She said she believed the statue would have more of an impact on children than would an inscribed plaque.

The statue of Lee on the horse is 12 feet high with a 12-foot-high granite base. The statue will be painted silver when completed in January.

Chaney said the structure was intended to honor Lee and increase the number of monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers at Antietam. He said Antietam has 105 monuments dedicated to Union troops but just five for the Confederates.

He said the site is an appropriate place for the statue because it depicts Lee stopping at Antietam and that the battle was the turning point in the Civil War.

"This represents the two countries coming together as one," Chaney said. "I think we owe it to the boys in the South as well as the boys in the North."

Dennis Frye, a historian and co-founder of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, urged the commission to vote against the statue, saying it would be an embarrassment to Lee because the general stopped at that location while retreating from South Mountain.

He said the site would be the only one in the country to have a monument denoting a retreat.

"Lee never defended this position," Frye said. "The Yankees held this position the entire battle. General Lee is certainly on the battlefield, but he was here for a fleeting moment and he was retreating. Historically, it's quite inappropriate to place this monument at this location ... and frankly, it's an embarrassment to the general."

Chaney argued that Lee wasn't retreating but that he was passing through Antietam.

Frye said the statue would confuse visitors into thinking the location was held by the Confederates. In addition, he said it was inappropriate because there are no other statues of horses at the battlefield and that approving the statue would set a precedent for others who own property at the battlefield to erect monuments.

"This is the wrong place, the wrong picture, the wrong person and the wrong precedent," Frye said.

Denise Troxell, also a member of Save Historic Antietam Foundation, said she found the statue to be offensive, inappropriate and not compatible with the farmstead.

"I find it unappealing. It's too tall," Troxell said. "It's going to stand right up there."

Chaney said he had originally proposed three statues for a site nearby, but he changed the location because of concerns expressed about it. He said he lowered the height of the Lee statue because of objections from the foundation.

"I've done everything I could do," Chaney said. "I've tried to be a good neighbor to the Park Service. I truthfully have tried to work with everybody. I don't know what more I can do."

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