Exploring Almost Forgotten Gravesites in the Great State of Ohio

Dedicated to cemetery preservation in the great state of Ohio


"A cemetery may be considered as abandoned when all or practically all of the bodies have been Removed therefrom and no bodies have been buried therein for a great many years, and the cemetery has been so long neglected as entirely to lose its identity as such, and is no longer known, recognized and respected by the public as a cemetery. 1953 OAG 2978."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Remembering Archibald M. Willard - Ohio's Patriotic Painter and Marian L. Moore who restored some of his frescoes

Back in December of 2009, I featured Archibald M. Willard on this blog, but I would like to re-post his story today as I never tire of reading about his art and life. 

Today, I updated the obituary for Marian L. Moore who died in 2003 (note: her gravestone death year shows 2002 in error). 

Miss Moore did restoration work on the beautiful ceiling frescoes that Willard painted in her home in 1885 when he stayed in Washington Court House during the time he was hired to paint the large murals in the court house there.  Please read the story below for the details.

Click on title to link to "Spirit of '76" Artist Archibald McNeal Willard's memorial on "Find A Grave."  He was buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Wellington, Ohio.

In 1999, I was asked to write a story about Archibald M. Willard for the Fayette County Genealogical Society (Fayette County, Ohio.) 

Below is the story I wrote about Archibald Willard's life and art:

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 today 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!!

Sources:

Publications:

“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 - pages 69 and 172.

“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”.   The 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.

Places Visited for Research:

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

The Fayette County Historical Society, 517 Columbus Avenue, Washington Court House, Ohio 43160

The Western Reserve Historical Society (Museum and Library), 10825 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44106 (216) 721-5722. 

The Bedford Museum, 30 Squire Place, Bedford Commons, Bedford, Ohio.   

Spirit of ‘76 Museum, 201 North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio 44090 
Herrick Memorial Library, 101 Willard Memorial Square, Wellington, Ohio 44090

The Ohio Historical Society, 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43211-

Geauga County Historical Society, 14653 East Park Street, Burton, Ohio 44021-0153. 

Some other sites to consider visiting:

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.

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