By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
Almost 150 years after the Civil War ended, Orono’s last veteran wants to come home to his perch overlooking the Stillwater River.
But this time-wounded soldier needs a few repairs, and the Orono Historical Society seeks a metalworker skilled in working with zinc to make them.
In 1890 townsfolk raised $400 to erect a Civil War monument in downtown Orono, at the intersection of Bennoch Road, Forest Avenue, and Main Street. The monument featured a granite base and a zinc statue depicting a Union soldier wearing a great coat and leaning on a rifled musket.
Until late 2008, the wary Union veteran kept watch on the southern horizon.
And from 1890 to 2008, he was probably Maine’s most mobile statue.
“The statue was originally at Monument Square. It almost sat down on the main road,” said Norm Poirier, director of Orono Recreation, Parks, and Facilities. The statue later moved to Orono Town Hall, back to Monument Square, back to the town hall in 1936, up the Bennoch Road to Riverside Cemetery in 1960, and finally to Webster Park in 1976.
The next move occurred on Sept. 4, 2008, when a volunteer crew from Veazie-based American Concrete Industries Inc. gingerly removed the statue from Webster Park for storage in the Blethen Building. The move coincided with the long-planned repair project launched by the Orono Historical Society.
Time, weather, and people had treated the zinc badly; a crack literally split the soldier’s head apart and damaged his kepi, and vandals stole the lower part of his rifle. Marlene Doucette, the Orono Historical Society president, discussed how snow and rain accessed the statue’s interior after the head initially cracked.
“The freeze-thaw hurt it,” she said. “I think Mother Nature did a job on the statue.”
The statue’s problems were evident some years earlier. “In 1999, we received a grant from the federal government to do an assessment on the monument,” Poirier said. Ronald Harvey, a conservator with Tuckerbrook Conservation in Lincolnville, carefully examined the statue and issued a detailed report on specific repairs.
The report estimated the statue-restoration cost at approximately $60,000. “The town just didn’t have the funds to go forward,” Poirier said.
The Orono Historical Society then decided to restore the statue, he said. According to Doucette, OHS worked with volunteers to place the statue in storage and to protect its base. “We’ve got it (base) wrapped in plastic because we didn’t want water to get in and spoil what was left,” she said.
The statue underwent some repairs, with particular attention paid to the soldier’s head and kepi. Additional repairs are needed, and Doucette wonders if “some kind of coating” can be applied to the statue to protect the zinc from moisture-caused damage.
The Orono Historical Society “is looking for someone with knowledge of working with zinc” to repair the statue and recommend a coating, she said.
The missing rifle must be replaced, said Mary Anne Eason, the Orono Historical Society’s accessioner. “The statue itself except for that gun is essentially finished,” she said.
“We need to do some work on the [statue’s] base,” Eason said.
Doucette asked qualified artisans to contact the Orono Historical Society at P.O. Box 324, Orono, ME 04473 or to call Poirier at (207) 866-5065. Anyone who would like to donate to the statue-restoration project can mail a check to the same address.