New Public Art
Oldham County’s Voegele to unveil
new statue at Oldham County Day
Sculptor Matt Weir created statue
of Col. William Oldham
LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2018) – As long as he has held office, it has been Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele’s perception that many residents have no idea how Oldham County received its name. Voegele finally decided that a statue of Col. William Oldham would be the best answer to this dilemma.
“Like many other Kentucky counties, Oldham County was named for an officer in the Revolutionary War,” said Voegele. “While Col. Oldham is the namesake of our county and primary focus of the memorial, he is representative of the thousands of American soldiers who fought in the Revolution and later attempted to carve a life from westward expansion in Kentucky and elsewhere.”
For several years Voegele has spearheaded a project to place a statue of Col. Oldham on the lawn of the Oldham County Courthouse. It will be unveiled on Oldham County Day, which is Saturday, July 21.
“The statue will be located in the circular area in front of the courthouse along the courthouse plaza,” he said. “A program with one or two speakers, recognition of donors, and an unveiling of the statue will take place after the parade, beginning at approximately 11 a.m.”
Louisville sculptor Matt Weir was chosen by Oldham County Fiscal Court to create a nine-foot bronze memorial statue with limestone base of Col. Oldham. When searching for a sculptor, Voegele also considered Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton for the job.
“As a sculptor, this is my passion,” said Weir. “I love getting invested in historical projects.” His goal is to create a piece of public art for the community that is both meaningful to residents and will let them know just who Col. Oldham was.
In the beginning, Weir was not given many guidelines for the project. He and Voegele discussed what they knew about Col. Oldham’s identity and the fact that not a lot is known about him because he died young at age 39. No known sketch or likeness of Col. Oldham exists.
To get some idea of what Col. Oldham may have looked like, Weir met with a distant nephew of Col. Oldham, also named William Oldham. Voegele is keeping secret about any details of the statue, saying that a clay model has been made, but “it has changed slightly, and I do not want to publicize the exact appearance of the statue prior to the dedication on Oldham County Day.”
Voegele has spent many hours researching Col. Oldham. “Oldham was brave and courageous as a young man, when the outcome of the Declaration of Independence was unknown. Later, as a young man on the frontier, he was respected and enterprising.”
A statue of Col. William Oldham similar to this rendition will be unveiled July 21 in
La Grange, Ky.
Col. Oldham arrived at the Falls of the Ohio in 1779. He married Penelope Pope, the eldest daughter of Col. William and Penelope Edwards Pope, on July 24, 1783. They had met as both families made their way to Kentucky; Penelope was 11 at the time. They were married three years later.
“I am looking forward to the dedication and hope the memorial will add to the charm of Downtown La Grange and be a source of pride for the community.”
At that time in Kentucky history, “the area was hundreds of miles out in the wilderness so there wasn’t much here other than George Rogers Clark’s fort on Corn Island and a few stations along Beargrass Creek. Oldham’s father-in-law, Colonel William Pope, had been named by Thomas Jefferson to survey a new town and be one of the town’s five trustees,” Voegele said.
The first meeting of the gentlemen who had been appointed as trustees of the new town of Louisville occurred on Feb. 7, 1781.
“By 1783, Will Oldham was also one of the young town’s trustees and property owners. Through the years, he served as the sheriff of Jefferson County, Virginia and was able to acquire a great deal of property south of Louisville, I believe mostly in the Salt River basin area of Jefferson and Nelson Counties.”
In 1791, when Gen. George Washington sent the army, supported by the militia of several states, Col. Oldham was put in charge of the Kentucky militia. He was one of more than 890 men and 16 officers killed or wounded in a battle against Native Americans known as St. Clair’s Defeat on Nov. 4, 1791, south of present day Fort Wayne, Ind. The victims were surprised and overpowered by Indians on a small branch of the Wabash River.
The exact location of his grave is not known, but he and others who died were memorialized at the site of the battle. The monument can be found in Fort Recovery Monument Park in Fort Recovery, Mercer County, Ohio. The only items returned to his wife and their children after his death were a watch and chain.
“The cost of the statue project is approximately $150,000, all of which has come from donations, ranging from $50,000 to $10,” Voegele said. An historical display with details about Col. Oldham’s life will be placed permanently along the sidewalk near the statue and a plaque listing donors will be mounted on an outside wall of the courthouse. The historical display will also list the names of Revolutionary War soldiers who were living in Oldham County when the 1840 census occurred and are likely buried in Oldham County.
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