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Paying Respects

Fundraising campaign a success to create statue of Col. Oldham

County judge hopes to unveil it
at 2018 Oldham County Day

LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2017) – Next summer, Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele said he hopes to commemorate a piece that serves as more than just a decoration on the courthouse plaza, but as a lesson to Oldham County residents about their heritage.
The plan to erect a commemorative statue of Revolutionary War officer Col. William Oldham in front of the Oldham County Courthouse has been under way since 2016, with earlier plans projecting its installation date just before Oldham County Day 2017. While Oldham residents will have to wait until next year’s Oldham County Day to see it installed, Voegele reports that fundraising for the statue has exceeded the Oldham County Fiscal Court’s expectations.
Voegele initially needed $135,000 to fund the project. Through selling limited edition Col. Oldham coins at $35 each, Voegele was able to raise $145,834 by this past summer. $134,000 will go to Louisville sculptor Matt Weir to create the statue, while the rest will cover the costs of moving the statue and for accompanying plaques. Voegele says that it’s uncertain if Fiscal Court will have money left over after the project is completed, and that there’s no current plan on how the extra funds would be used.

Photo provided

This is the rendering of a statue of Revolutionary War Col. William Oldham, after whom the county was named.

The statue itself will be made of bronze and stand at six feet tall, sitting upon a three-foot tall base of white limestone. Voegele plans on placing the statue front and center from the Oldham County Courthouse in a circular area currently being used as a flowerbed. One or more plaques outlining the history of Col. Oldham and another in gratitude of the project’s donors will accompany the statue. Voegele said he hopes to have an unveiling ceremony for the statue and include Revolutionary War re-enactors in the 2018 Oldham County Day parade.
This was all a product of a simple moment of inspiration for Voegele, who said, “The idea just came to me one day.”
Voegele took the initiative to learn more about Oldham after noticing the poor shape of a bronze plaque in memory of Oldham on the courthouse lawn. The sign had been sitting there for many years and became what he referred to as “lopsided,” needing repair work. Voegele then entertained the idea of a proper memorial for Oldham.
“As I asked around, I found that many people didn’t know who our county was named after or who was involved with its history,” Voegele recalls.
Because of this, it didn’t take long before he began researching Oldham’s family history, participation in the Revolution and his service in the area after the war. No books and the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. After the war, Col. Oldham retired to the Falls of Ohio with his brother, Samuel. William then spent time as the sheriff of what was then Jefferson County, Va. (encompassing present-day Oldham County), where he was thought of as a “brave and industrious person.” Afterward, he was appointed to lead the Kentucky militia on an expedition into the Northwest Territory – a mission that led him to his eventual demise. On Nov. 4, 1791, Col. Oldham was one of approximately 600 U.S. soldiers killed at St. Claire’s Defeat (or the “Battle of the Wabash”) against a confederation of Native Americans. Col. Oldham’s body was not recovered after the battle; his wife and four children only received his watch, chain and a will that granted them the property. Thirty years later, in 1823, Oldham County was formed and named in his honor.
Though not much is known about Col. Oldham or his appearance, Weir went to considerable lengths to create an authentic representation. To get an idea of what Oldham may have looked like, Weir had his friend and distant nephew of Oldham, Will Oldham, model for him in period-appropriate clothing. He also studied family photo albums and created what’s called a lifecast mold of Will’s face (a three-dimensional model) to get an understanding of the family’s physical traits.
Weir says he’s also aiming to capture the same sense of an early American pioneer that can be seen in representations of Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark.
“How I really captured him was in a relatively informal pose on top of what I’m calling an unfinished column,” he says. “It’s unfinished in the sense that it’s being carved out of this rough quarry block. That’s sort of my symbolic touch on how Oldham’s own life and contributions were cut short.”
Once the statue is moved from Weir’s studio in Germantown to its permanent site in front of the courthouse, Voegele said he hopes it will serve as a lesson to many residents about their heritage. “Learning history was emphasized more when I was younger,” Voegele says, noting that history can become misrepresented or forgotten when it isn’t passed down to younger generations. “Many people have told me that they’ve lived in Oldham County their entire lives and didn’t know anything about this.” Voegele says. “I’m trying to reverse that here for our younger people, and have our community members bring back a little of the history of how our country progressed and those who lost their lives along the way.”

• Oldham County Day is scheduled for July 21, 2018. To see more of Matt Weir’s work, visit www.mweirworks.com.

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