Lee Park is a Charlottesville City Park, centrally located in downtown Charlottesville. A large equestrian monument of Robert Edward Lee mounted on his horse Traveler, by Leo Lentelli (1879-1961), is the focal point of the park. The statue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Surrounding the statue are xeriscape garden plantings, and ornamental trees including a weeping cherry and dogwoods.
The city's comprehensive plan classifies Lee Park as an 'urban' park. The park is often used for festivals and music performances, and was the site of the Occupy Charlottesville protest. The western side of the park is used as seating space for the Garage.
History of park and statue donation
Paul Goodloe McIntire assembled several parcels of land, knocked down existing buildings, and then deeded the land as Lee Park to the city in 1917 specifically in order to erect the statue of Lee; he donated the completed statue seven years later in 1924.
An artist recommended to McIntire by celebrated American sculptor Daniel Chester French, Henry M. Shrady, created the original conception of the statue. But Shrady died before casting it. His last words were “keep the canvas wet-- keep the canvas wet." His doctors and nurses thought he was delerious, but in fact he was entreating them to keep wet the canvas cover over his preliminary clay model of the Lee statue. Unfortunately over the next months the clay dried out, cracked, and the model was lost.
Shrady was replaced by artist Leo Lentelli, who patterned the design of the sculpture on an existing memorial to Lee standing at Gettysburg. Lentelli took pains with accuracy, including traveling to Richmond to measure Lee’s equipment "down to the galleons on the General’s sleeve.”
The bronze was cast by Roman Bronze Works. McIntire had hoped to use melted down Confederate cannons for the sake of sentiment, but there were none to be found in 1923. Walter D. Blair, architect, designed the granite pedestal for the statue. McIntyre had suggested a dedication to his mother Catherine McIntire but it was omitted from the pedestal's final design. There was no inscription, other than the simple name Robert Edward Lee, because it was thought "any other wording or decoration would be superfluous."
The statue was unveiled at a ceremony May 21, 1924 by Mary Walker Lee, the three year old granddaughter of General Lee. University of Virginia President Alderman made the speech of acceptance at the dedication ceremony, saying:
“Here it shall stand during the ages at the center of our lives, teaching, through the medium of beauty, the everlasting lesson of dignity and character, of valor and unselfish service . . . in the majesty of his manner. And now, in this hour of reunion and reconciliation, we know how . . . he symbolized the future for us as it has come to pass, and bade us to live in it, in liberal and lofty fashion, with hearts unspoiled by hate and eyes clear to see the deeds of a new and mightier day.”
Use of the park
Lee Park is the venue for many of Charlottesville's annual festivals, such as the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival, Pride Celebration, the Chocolate Festival hosted by the First Baptist Church, the Festival of Cultures, and special events connected with the Dogwood Festival in conjunction with the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA.
The park has also been the site of protests. The group Occupy Charlottesville began a protest campaign in mid-October 2011 which involved setting up tents. The city granted a series of permits allowing the occupation which expired on November 24, 2011. The ongoing occupation prompted questions whether the city showed favoritism by allowing the group to stay in the park so long. The city evicted protestors on November 30, 2011 and 18 people were arrested.
Controversy about moving statue
At the 2012 Virginia Festival of the Book, City Councilor Kristin Szakos raised questions over whether the Robert E. Lee statue in the park should be removed out of a concern it celebrates the state's Confederate past. The proposal was met with considerable backlash from the community, who view the statue as an important part of history. More recently, in March 2016 the issue of moving Confederate statues was revived.
Local Voices, Local History
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- National Register of Historic Places id #64500682, Four Monumental Figurative Outdoor Sculptures in Charlottesville
- Web. Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 10, City of Charlottesville, Charlottesville, Virginia, retrieved October 19, 2010.
- Robert Kuhlthau, Preliminary Notes on the Robert E. Lee Statue, 20 September 1995, (on deposit Albemarle Historical Society, Monuments file).
- Web. Occupiers face balancing act with some who've joined in, Graham Moomaw, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, November 5, 2011, retrieved November 7, 2011.
- Web. Jefferson Area Tea Party chair suspicious of Councilor Brown comment, Brendan Fitzgerald, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, October 18, 2011, retrieved November 7, 2011.
- Web. Officials hear 'death knell' of Occupy Charlottesville, Graham Moomaw, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, December 1, 2011, retrieved December 5, 2011.
- Web. Historian talks Civil War as councilor wonders if statues should be torn down, Ted Strong, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, March 22, 2012, retrieved March 29, 2012.
- Web. Szakos decries response to statue comments, Graham Moomaw, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, retrieved August 22, 2012.
- Web. City's Civil War statues remind us of our past, Daily Progress, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, March 27, 2012, retrieved August 22, 2012.
- Web. Debate over role of Charlottesville's Confederate statues reignites, Bryan McKenzie, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, retrieved March 22, 2016.
- Web. Movement afoot to remove Lee statue in Charlottesville, Chris Suarez, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, March 22, 2016, retrieved March 29, 2012.