Among the statues at home on the UVM Green, Ira Allen gets all the love. He has the lake view down College Street, the Old Mill backdrop, the sidewalk nexus high-profile site, and even gets to dress up for commencement each May. This is all fitting for a founder, no doubt, but where does this leave the Marquis de Lafayette? Well, for nearly a century, it has left him at the north end of the Green, where he stands with hand on hip looking a bit vexed, casting his gaze in the general direction of the Mathematics & Statistics Department offices. Aside from his location, a thick bank of evergreen shrubs behind him has long conspired to make Lafayette the decidedly #2 statue on the Green.
Things looked up for the Marquis a week or so ago when the UVM grounds crew cleared those shrubs and opened up a 360-degree view around him.
While Ira Allen’s business on the UVM Green is plain; it’s a little more mysterious what the Marquis de Lafayette is doing there. Quick history lesson: A French aristocrat and military officer, Lafayette was a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington. Among the heroes of the American Revolutionary War, Lafayette distinguished himself at the battles of Brandywine and Rhode Island and Yorktown. In 1824, U.S. President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette to visit the United States where he traveled to all twenty-four states of the union in a victory tour of sorts. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
There are Lafayette monuments in many places in the United States, but there’s a special significance at UVM since he was in Burlington at the opportune moment when the cornerstone was set for the university’s brand new building that would come to be known as Old Mill. The Marquis did the honors of making the dedication. While that 1825 moment is remembered with words chiseled into redstone along the building’s foundation, UVM donor John Purple Howard would reaffirm Lafayette’s memory when he commissioned John Quincy Adams Ward to create a statue of the Marquis to complement the renovation of the Old Mill, which he also funded in the early 1880s. So it was that UVM’s Marquis de Lafayette monument originally occupied the spot—wait for it—right where Ira Allen stands today.
The Marquis made his move north in the 1920s when UVM mega-donor James Wilbur made a facility/statue gift of his own—Ira Allen Chapel and the statue of Allen that would usurp Lafayette’s command post on the Green.
Do statues harbor grudges? While the Marquis de Lafayette will never get his original prime real estate back, there’s some poetic justice in that this military leader—whose hero CV, let’s be honest, outstrips Ira Allen’s—now gets to pose, thanks to some judicious pruning, with Ira’s chapel as his backdrop.