Click on title to link to Archibald M. Willard's memorial on the website of "Findagrave.com"
Below is the story I wrote in 1999 about this famous Ohio painter that was published in "The Fayette Connection" of the Fayette County Genealogical Society
Archibald M. Willard - Ohio’s Patriot Painter
(Written for the Fayette County Genealogical Society, a Chapter of O.G.S.)
By: Linda Jean Ellis - November, 1999
From all accounts, his artistic beginnings were of a self-taught and solitary nature. His early livelihood came from painting fancy scenes on the sides of horse-drawn farm and circus wagons for the E.S. Tripp Carriage Factory in Wellington, Ohio. Later, he would create a cartoon of sorts featuring his father as a marching militia drummer in a painting he dubbed “Yankee Doodle,” but today Archibald M. Willard is well remembered. We have come to identify the ideals of liberty by his stirring revision of this portrait entitled: “The Spirit of ‘76” - painted by him at age 40. Staunch supporter and partner, Cleveland photographer, J.F. Ryder, was instrumental in the “Spirit of ‘76” (then still called “Yankee Doodle”) being included in the American Centennial Celebration’s art exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876. Here, the call of the portrait was clear as many hearts were touched by this trio of mismatched musicians. Suddenly, the creator, this Ohio born Civil War veteran, was an unknown artist no longer.
Archibald McNeal Willard was born in Bedford (Cuyahoga County) Ohio to Reverend Samuel Willard and Catherine Willard. August 22, 1836 is the date shown in public records for Archibald M. Willard’s birth date, however, the A.M. and Nellie S. Willard family bible has August 26, 1836 written as the date of birth, in what appears to be the artist’s own handwriting. He was the fourth of seven children they would have. The family moved around quite a lot due to Archibald’s father’s occupation. Rev. Willard was the first pastor and founder of the Baptist Church in Bedford, however, he later joined the Disciples of Christ. About 1850, Rev. Willard moved his family to Russell Township in Geauga County (now South Russell) where he built a house which still stands today (1080 Bell Road - privately owned). Ultimately, the Willard family settled in Wellington (Lorain County) Ohio around 1855.
Undoubtedly, young “Arch” as he was sometimes referred to, inherited some of his patriotic spirit from his grandfather, Jonathan Willard, who lived with the family for awhile. He was a Revolutionary War veteran who fought with the Vermont Green Mountain Boys. It is written that Archibald was a descendant of Major Simon Willard who came to America from England in 1634 and was a founder of Concord, Massachusetts.
On March 31, 1864, Archibald Willard married a Wellington girl named Nellie S. Challacombe. By that time he had already enlisted in the 86th O.V.I. during the Civil War. Later he joined the 176th O.V.I. and was discharged in June of 1865.
Now on to a mystery .... for a span of almost 75 years no one seemed to know who painted the three 10 x 14 foot murals of angelic-looking ladies suspended in the sky named “Spirit of Electricity,” “Spirit of the U.S. Mail,” and “Spirit of the Telegraph” on the second floor walls in the grand Victorian styled Fayette County Courthouse. No one remembered seeing an actual signature on them. Could it be that Willard’s “spirited” steps led to that stately structure? Then in 1956, Mr. B.E. Kelley of Washington Court House, and the widow of one of the founders of The Cooks Brothers Decorating Company in Cleveland verified that, indeed, Archibald Willard was the courthouse artist. The words: “A.M. Will... Cleveland, Ohio,” written on the envelope held by the hand of the “Spirit of the U.S. Mail” mural, were the only but crucial clue. Records did confirm that The Cooks Brothers Decorating Company was under contract by the Fayette County Commissioners in August of 1882, and that they hired Archibald Willard to complete this special project.
The Fayette County Commissioners have printed a booklet entitled: “ Fayette County Courthouse - A Unique Blend of Art and Architecture” which details how A.M. Willard came to be chosen as the artist.
While staying in Washington Court House, Willard lived in a home with the current address of 501 East Market Street. Many local residents today know that Miss Marian L. Moore bought this house and has lived in it for a number of years. In 1968, as she began to remove the living room wallpaper to redecorate, she discovered a mural above the fireplace. Again, with the help of Mr. Kelley, it was documented that Archibald Willard had painted this work as well.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Miss Moore, now age 87, by phone recently. She recounted her time in working on the restoration herself. She said she stood on a tall ladder wearing a carpenter’s apron, pads on her shins, and using two pair of glasses to carefully remove the paper, and then restoring the painting underneath. I’m sure Archibald Willard would be pleased with her devoted efforts to revive his eagle resting on a red, white and blue shield flanked by American flags mural as well as other painted decorations he created while rooming there; if only he could be here to see the results.
As I read more about this man’s life and works, I am all the more convinced that many of his creations are now lost to us. In the book, “The Spirit of ‘76 ... An American Portrait America’s best known painting. - least known artist.” (1976) written by Willard’s great-great nephew, Willard F. Gordon, a chapter is called “Lost Willard Paintings” and lists 65 of his works (including three sculptures) that were unaccounted for at that time. Over the years some have surfaced in northern Ohio in particular, but certainly not all.
Archibald M. Willard died on October 11, 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Wellington. No direct descendants survive him today.
My hope is this glimpse of Archibald Willard and his art encourages you to begin your own research which will acquaint you with him beyond what space here has afforded. And, perhaps you may find one of his lost paintings yourself - hidden somewhere - possibly in your own home!!
(Listed below are the publications and places I have checked regarding Archibald M. Willard. Time and distance factors have affected my exploration of all the possibilities on this subject, however.)
“The Spirit of ‘76 ... An American Portrait America’s best known painting. - least known artist.” by Willard F. Gordon 1976 - Extensive coverage of Archibald Willard’s works with photographs of many.
“Historic Wellington Then and Now” by Ernst L. Henes 1983 - pages 25-27
“Looking Back On Lorain County” by Ernst L. Henes 1978 - pages 27, 30, 31 and 40
“The Historian - A Look back at Lorain County” Vol. 6 Edition 242 - 1992 - pages 15 and 16
“The Ohio Historical Review - featuring Lorain County” Vol. 11, No. 10 - 1980 - page 11
“Bedford Village Views” by Dick Squire 1992 - pages 108-109; 343-344 and 347
“Bedford Vignettes or Around the Town by the Village Observer” by Dick Squire - 1982 - pages 274 and 275
“Remembering Archibald Willard” - By Dick Squire - Bedford Times-Register - August 21, 1986
“Murals at Wash. C.H., Ohio Identified After 72 Years” - By. B. E. Kelley - Tri-State Trader - Knightstown, Indiana - September 13, 1968
“Fayette County Ohio A Pictorial History” by Carol Witherspoon Carey on behalf of the Fayette County Historical Society 1993
“Down Through The Golden Years” by B.E. Kelley - compiled by author in 1973 - pages 288, 289, 290; 862 and 863.
The Fayette County Commissioners brochure entitled “Fayette County Courthouse - A Unique Blend of Art and Architecture”
The Ohio Historical publication - “Archibald M. Willard and The Spirit of ‘76 - An Ohio Artist and His Work” - 1992 - a 24-page 8½” x 11” Booklet which accompanied the Willard exhibit from July 4 through October 12, 1992
Geauga County Historical Society Quarterly - September, 1976 - Pages 2-4 “Yankee Doodle”
Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 1, July, 1963 issued by the Geauga County Historical Society, Burton, Ohio - Pages 1 and 2, “Willard Paintings”
The Quarterly - Vol. 36, Issue #3, pages 1 and 2 - August, 1997 - “The Spirit of ‘76,” a publication of the Geauga County Historical Society.
“Pioneer and General History of Geauga County” - 1953 Edition - page 721 - published by the Geauga County Historical Society; Letter from Alfred M. Wilber about the old Willard home in Aurora.
“South Russell, A Brief History” - Spring, 1992 by Hosmer, Patricia and Phillip Wayne - a pamphlet showing the photo of the home built by Rev. Samuel Willard.
The Fayette County Courthouse, 110 East Court Street, Washington Court House, Ohio 43160
The Carnegie Library, 127 S. North Street, Washington Court House, Ohio 43160 - (740)-335-2540
The Fayette County Historical Society, 517 Columbus Avenue, Washington Court House, Ohio 43160 - (740) 335-2953
The Western Reserve Historical Society (Museum and Library), 10825 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44106 (216) 721-5722. (http://www.wrhs.org/ - internet address to access the library’s manuscript collection.)
The Bedford Museum, 30 Squire Place, Bedford Commons, Bedford, Ohio (P.O. Box 46282, Bedford, Ohio 44146.) Telephone - (440) 232-0796
Spirit of ‘76 Museum, 201 North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio 44090 (440) 647-4367 -
Herrick Memorial Library, 101 Willard Memorial Square, Wellington, Ohio 44090 - (440) 647-2120 -
The Ohio Historical Society, 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43211-2497.
Geauga County Historical Society, 14653 East Park Street, Burton, Ohio 44021-0153 (mailing address is PO Box 153). Museum and Century Village
Russell Historical Society, 8450 Kinsman Road, Novelty, Ohio 44072. Contact Margaret Hetrick - 440-338-8583 for further information (South Russell home built about 1850 by Rev. Samuel Willard.)
Some other sites to consider:
The City Hall of Cleveland, Ohio - an 8 foot by 10 foot “Spirit of ‘76” painted by request in 1912 by A. M. Willard - Often referred to as “The Original Masterpiece.”
Abbot Hall - Marblehead, Massachusetts - Known as the “Centennial Spirit of ‘76,” donated by the father of Henry K. Devereux, the boy who posed as the young drummer for the painting.