For the last 76 years the sandstone sculpture known as the Start Westward Monument has been the centerpiece of Marietta’s East Muskingum Park and is visited by thousands of tourists annually. But the statue, honoring the hardy pioneers who settled Marietta and began the nation’s expansion into the Northwest Territory, has seen better days.
Pieces of the sculpture’s surface have spalled off and streaks of black are running down the fronts of the three stone pioneers facing Front Street.
Jim Naylor of Marietta has been concerned about the monument’s condition for some time.
“The black material on the front of the sculpture may be some kind of mold-the type you see on the roofs of some houses,” he said. “But something has to be done to preserve the monument. A photo of it is in all of the brochures about Marietta.”
Precipitation is the main culprit in the sculpture’s deterioration.
“It’s carved from local sandstone, which is soft and doesn’t have a good life when exposed to the elements,” said Jean Yost, a local history buff and member of the local Sons of the American Revolution.
The monument was designed by Gutzon Borglum, famed sculptor of the presidential busts on Mount Rushmore, and President Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Pioneer City and dedicated the monument during Marietta’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1938.
“The monument has probably been repaired dozens of times over the years,” said Bill Reynolds, historian with the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums.
“But it’s very soft sandstone and if it stays out in the weather for the next 100 years nothing will be left but a pile of sand,” he added.
Some of the more recent work included covering the entire sculpture with a weather-resistant substance.
“It was coated with some type of preservative that was supposed to encapsulate and waterproof the monument, but that hasn’t worked too well,” Reynolds said. “In my opinion a covering over the structure would be the best way to keep the weather off of the monument.”
Yost said a pavilion-type structure has been considered in the past, but the idea was not pursued because neighbors were concerned it would block their view of the park and Muskingum River which flows within 100 feet of the west end of the monument.
Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said the pavilion idea was set forth during current Mayor Joe Matthews’ third term in the early 2000s.
“The mayor had a plan to cover it, but neighbors across the street from the park complained it would block their view,” he said. “Those people have moved away since then.”
Hupp said Matthews still has some concept drawings for a structure to cover the monument, but it would take some funding to complete the project.
He said city development director Andy Coleman did some searching for grant monies to help preserve the sculpture, but was unable to find a funding source.
“Andy and I have also talked with some local people who we felt might be interested in helping preserve the statue. We’ve had no response so far, although we’re still open to suggestions,” Hupp said.
He did not have an estimate of what it might cost to erect a pavilion over the monument.
Noah Lauderman of Marietta said a pavilion might help, but more work would be required to keep the statue looking the way Borglum originally intended.
“It might look better under a shelter, but that would only be a stop-gap solution,” he said. “The monument still needs to be repaired so it looks like it should.”
Gary Smith, also from Marietta, thought a pavilion would be a good idea.
“I think that would work, and it wouldn’t be hard to build,” he said. “That monument has been there a long time. I’ve seen a lot of people taking photos of it.”
Yost was not sure a pavilion would be right for the monument.
“My concern would be that any structure built should not overwhelm the monument itself,” he said. “There was a study done some years ago about preserving the sculpture, and it could contain some practical solutions.”
He said taking a look at that study could be a good place to start with preservation efforts for the monument.
“And we do want to preserve this great stonecarver’s works,” Yost said.
Naylor said any preservation work will likely be costly, but suggested contacting someone in the local artist community that may have some expertise in preserving sculptures.
“There’s bound to be a way, especially with new technology and materials that would be available,” he said.