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Monumental move: Frederick Douglass statue to be relocated to prominent location

January 04, 2019 11:35 PM

Advocates for the legacy of historic icon Frederick Douglass celebrated Monroe County's plans to relocate Rochester's iconic statue of Douglass from the Bowl in Highland Park to a more prominent location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive.

"We have been excited about the movement of this monument since we started this project two years ago," said Carvin Eison, director of the Reenergizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass project. "It's probably the most important monument in Rochester, New York."

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Immediately after the 2019 Lilac Festival, the Monroe County Parks Department scheduled the beginning of work on a new plaza dedicated to Douglass and to place the statue there by the end of summer. 

Douglass admirers have long complained the statue's location didn't do justice to the stature of the former slave turned abolitionist, writer and statesman who made Rochester his home.

"A number of people I have heard say that they didn't even know that the statue of Frederick Douglass was in Highland park," said Chris Christopher, manager of the Reenergizing the Legacy project. "It does sit back into the Bowl. It does face in a direction away from the street."

The bronze statue on a granite base was originally erected in 1899 on Central Avenue at what was then the city's train station. It was meant to be a welcoming sign to travelers coming into Rochester, a proud display of the city's hero.

That location now displays one of a new generation of 13 fiberglass Douglass statues, replicas of the original.

The statue itself was moved from that site in 1941 over concerns the busy, gritty location was no longer appropriate. It was relocated to a Rochester mecca of its day, the amphitheater in the Highland Park Bowl where it could be seen and admired.

But in the decades since, the crowds moved on and the location became more secluded. 

"It was a natural place to have it because he was right there, among the people," said Monroe County Parks Director Larry Staub.  "But now it's hard to see from the road. It's hard to see when you're going to the Lilac Festival. So we wanted to bring it out and put in into a place of greater prominence."

In 2018, State Assemblyman Harry Bronson secured $125,000 in state funding to build a new home for the statue.

The county must come up with an additional $25,000 to hire a contractor to haul the statue approximately 100 yards to its new location.

"It is so critical to the life blood out of this community that this monument is in a prominent position," Eison said, "because place has memory." 

Plans for the new statue location called for a blue stone plaza with benches, planters and a display of dark cylinders illuminated from within showing stellar constellations and highlighting the North Star, evocative of the star's status as a beacon for escaping slaves seeking freedom in the north and also of the newspaper Douglass published, the North Star.

But the project called for little else at the location.

"We are going to let the statue do the talking," Staub said. "We didn't want to over design something to take away from the statue.  The statue is the main element of this project."

Staub predicted the county would start soliciting bids for the project by March.

Construction work would begin immediately after the end of the 2019 Lilac Festival in May and be completed by the end of summer. 

Click here for the statue concept plan. 

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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