Washington’s Original Monument to Baron von Steuben

The memorial to General Baron von Steuben located at the northwest corner of Lafayette Park facing up Connecticut Avenue is reasonably well known today, though I would argue less noted by passersby than it was a century ago. However, it is not Washington’s first monument to honor von Steuben. That distinction goes to an obscure sculpture created in 1870 and originally sited along Georgia Avenue. Whereas the more famous monument was the result of an act of Congress, the older monument was paid for by citizens of the District of Columbia.

Unveiling of von Steuben memorial, Layfatette Park, 1910.

Unveiling of Washington’s second von Steuben memorial, Lafayette Park, 1910.

The later sculpture was the result of a Congressional act authorizing its creation which was approved on February 27, 1903, and appropriated a sum of $50,000 to do it. Sculptor Albert Jaegers was selected to design the von Steuben memorial, which was completed and officially unveiled on December 7, 1910. This memorial is now Washington’s official recognition of von Steuben’s critical contribution to the cause of an independent United States, and addressed criticism — especially from the German-American community — which was dismayed as late as 1902 that  the U.S. Government had no official memorial in Washington recognizing von Steuben, while it had establishing memorials to French Generals Lafayette and Rochambeau. But to suggest that the city of Washington didn’t have an unofficial, lesser known memorial to von Steuben prior to 1910, would be incorrect.

Origins of Steuben Monument & Schuetzen Park

The origins of both  a monument to Steuben and Schuetzen Park can be found in the German-American picnics and outings held at Arlington (Custis’s) Springs from 1846 to 1859. This property today is part of Arlington Cemetery. Though advanced in years, George Washington Parke Custis welcomed Washington’s German community to his estate, and when informed in advance of an upcoming picnic, Custis would provide music, a dancing platform, food, wreaths, and flags. Similar gatherings were held by Germans in other American towns during this period. About the year 1854-5, a general movement arose throughout the country, among German-Americans, to raise a fund to erect a monument to Baron von Steuben and fitly honor his services to the struggling colonists during the War of Independence.

In Washington, the Central Committee of the German Citizens of Washington City arranged a festival in the aid of the Steuben Monument Fund to be held at Arlington Springs on July 26, 1858. The festival included dancing, singing and gymnastics and the various military companies and civil societies participated – such as the Turngemeinde and Democratic Turn Verein, the Fresco Painters, the Maennerchor, and the French Society de l’Union. Among the decorations were the flags of the United States, Germany, and France. Nearly $1,000 was raised toward the proposed monument to Steuben at the festival. A similar event was held in Baltimore that year, as was a second Steuben Monument Festival at Arlington Springs in September 1859.

However, friction developed between the various Steuben Monument Associations. At first a congress of the various groups in 1859 decided that the monument would take the form of an equestrian statue to be located in Washington, D.C., requiring additional funding.  Later, the groups in New York and Philadelphia objected to the memorial being placed in Washington, and the loosely organized confederation broke apart. The Civil War further disrupted progress toward the creation of a Steuben monument.

The Maryland House, also known as

The Maryland House, also known as the Park Hotel, was operated by Louis Beyer in connection with Beyer’s Park. It was located on the east side of Georgia Avenue with the park behind it. The entire property would eventually be developed into Griffith Stadium. (Image ca. 1911, courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.).

Shortly after the Civil War ended, a few members of Washington’s German community met in Beyers’ park (the future site of Griffith Stadium) on November 22, 1865 to found what became the Schuetzen Verein. The verein was chartered by Congress and purchased a tract of twelve acres on the east side of Seventh Street Turnpike (roughly located from Hobart to Kenyon)  – studded with shade trees – at a cost of $36,000. It was also during this period that a decision was made – under the leadership of Anton Eberly – to use the funds previously raised to commission a Steuben monument. Washington sculptor Jacques Jouvenal was given the commission.

Schuetzen Park 1903 map(Detail of 1903 Baist’s Real Estate map showing location of Schuetzen Park. Today, Hancock Street is Kenyon Street)

Sculptor Jacques Jouvenal

Jacques Jouvenal portraitJouvenal was born in Pinache, Germany, on March 8, 1829. His ancestors were French Huguenot ‘s who moved to Germany to escape religious persecution. Jouvenal came to the United States in 1853, settling first in New York where he married. In 1855 he moved to Washington, where he commenced work on the Ionic capitals of the columns of the Capitol, worked on the Corinthian capitals on the Capitol’s extension from 1856 to 1865, and carved the mantle in the Senate wing of the building. His work includes the memorial to Peter Force – who served as mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1836 to 1848 – in Rock Creek Cemetery and busts of Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, and Aaron Burr. Washingtonians are likely most familiar with his statue of Benjamin Franklin which today is placed before the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Steuben Monument

Steuben monument on the grounds of the German Orphan Asylum, ca. 1930.

Steuben monument on the grounds of the German Orphan Asylum, ca. 1930.

One of the earliest improvements to Schuetzen Park was the Steuben Monument, which was placed in front of the mansion house on the grounds. A grand festival at the park was held on May 16, 1870, during which the corner stone of the monument was laid. It included an introductory speech by Anton Eberly, President of the Steuben Association, and a rendition of the victory Song sung by the Washington Sängerbund. President Grant, Cabinet officers, members of the House and Senate, foreign ministers, and prominent military officers attended the ceremonies. Jouvenal’s monument was completed in October 1870, with a well attended dedication ceremony held on October 10th.

The monument was described as being composed of Italian marble, highly polished, and standing about 12 ½ feet high. The disc being about four feet in height and four feet square, upon which were carved the simple word “Steuben,” on the American shield, around which is a wreath of oak, and a representation of a torch and sword below. The monument is surmounted by a bust of Steuben about 2 ½ feet heigh, and was considered to be a good likeness of the general.

Moving the Memorial

When a ban was passed on the sale of alcohol within a mile of the Soldiers’ Home in 1891, Schuetzen Park closed and the property was sold to a syndicate for development. This resulted in the need to find a new location for the Steuben monument – which had been paid for by German-American residents of Washington and only held in trust by the Schuetzen Verein. On May 17, 1892, the Senate passed a resolution offered by Senator Sherman authorizing the Washington Schuetzen Verein to erect, at its own expense, the Steuben monument on one of the city’s public parks or reservations. President Harrison approved the act in June and the task of finding an appropriate reservation began. Yet, the monument did not move to a public park, but rather to the grounds of the German Orphan Asylum located on Anacostia’s Good Hope Hill. In addition to Anton Eberly, the decision to locate the monument at the orphanage included fellow Schuetzen Verein members Charles Ebel and John Angerman.

Prior to unveiling the monument on Good Hope Road on May 22, 1893, Jouvenal was entrusted with  renovating his sculpture and transferring it to its new location. As part of this work, Jouvenal carved the following on the back of the monument (based on Art Inventories record):

Vermaililnik (?)

an das

Deutschic-Waisen-Haus.

Vom

Washington Schuetzen-Verein

Den

22 Mai 1893

 The monument stayed on the grounds of the orphanage until the orphanage purchased a large parcel of land in Prince George’s County and opening a new home on Melwood Road in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in 1965. It remained at the Upper Marlboro location as late as 1994. Sometime thereafter, it was moved again, this time being placed on the grounds of the Residence of the German Ambassador on Foxhall Road by the Washington Sängerbund. The monument is still there today.

The Monument’s Future

The Steuben monument today, on the grounds of the German Ambassador's residence.

The Steuben monument today, on the grounds of the German Ambassador’s residence.

While Washington’s original Steuben monument is safe, sound, and well cared for at the German Ambassador’s residence, it is not an ideal location. Unlike many of Washington’s memorials, Jouvenal’s monument was commissioned and paid for by residents of the District of Columbia and, as a result, is a much more intimate monument than most. The chief problem with the Ambassador’s residence is that it is not publicly accessible … but if not there, then where?

There is one location that stands out as an ideal location for the Steuben monument. There is a small public park on the southeast corner of Kenyon Street and Georgia Avenue where the small scale of the monument would be perfectly at home. Furthermore, the land is within the original boundaries of the old Schuetzen Park, and in close proximity to the original site of the monument. The location is also a short distance from the home of John Angerman  — a member of the Schuetzen Verein who was originally involved in finding a safe home for the monument when the Schuetzen Park closed.

Admittedly, returning the Steuben monument to Georgia Avenue would likely be a complicated and long process riddled with hurdles … but I believe it to be a worthwhile undertaking worth investigating.

Kenyon and Georgia(The southeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Kenyon Street contains a small park, originally part of the old Schuetzen Park. It would be an ideal location for Jouvenal’s Steuben monument)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Acts Approved.” The Evening Star, June 23, 1892, p. 1.

Carter, George H. (comp.).  Proceedings upon the unveiling of the statue of Baron von Steuben, major general and inspector general in the Continental army during the revolutionary war, in Washington, D. C., December 7, 1910. [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1913]

“The Drill Master Honored.” The Washington Post, May 23, 1893, p. 5.

“The German Guests.” The National Republican, Oct. 26, 1881, p. 1.

“German Joys in Early Days.” The National Republican, Oct. 13, 1883, p. 5.

“The German Orphan Asylum.” The Washington Post, Apr. 15, 1893, p. 4.

“Golden Anniversary; Celebration by Mr. and Mrs. Jacques Jouvenal of This City.” The Evening Star, Aug. 22, 1903, p. 2.

“Jacques Jouvenal, Sculptor, Is Dead.” The Washington Times, Mar. 9, 1905, p. 12.

“A monument to Baron Steuben to Be Erected in This City.” The Evening Star, May 17, 1892, p. 5.

“On Good Hope Hill.” The Evening Star, Dec. 30, 1893, p. 11.

Proctor, John Clagett. “The Jouvenals, Early Washington Sculptors.” The Evening Star, June 12, 1932, pp. 5, 13-14.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Schuetzen Park Was a Famous Resort.”  The Evening Star, June 1, 1930, pp. 8-9.

“Second Steuben Monument Festival.” The Evening Star, Sept. 6, 1859, p. 2.

“The Second Steuben monument festival.” The Evening Star, Sept. 17, 1859, p. 3.

“Statue to Baron Steuben.” The Washington Post, May 26, 1902, p. 10.

“Steuben Monument Association [Announcement].” The Evening Star, Feb. 6, 1863, p. 2.

“Steuben Monument Festival.” The Evening Star, July 17, 1858, p. 1.

“The Steuben Monument.” The Evening Star, Oct. 10, 1870, p. 1.

“The Steuben Monument Festival at Arlington.” The Evening Star, July 27, 1858, p. 3.

“Washington Schuetzen Verein; It’s Organization and History – Dedication of the New Building To-morrow.” The Washington Post, May 9, 1880, p. 1.

“The Washington Schuetzen Verein; The May Festival; The Steuben Monument.” The Evening Star, May 16, 1870, p. 1.

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11 Comments on “Washington’s Original Monument to Baron von Steuben”

  1. JM Says:

    Fascinating. Funny that Schuetzen Park closed once alcohol sales nearby were banned.

  2. db Says:

    Well that explains why the deed to my house (on Irving) says the location is the subdivision called “Schuetzen Park.” Never understood where that come from. Now I know.


  3. […] of Schuetzen Park and the German community in the Georgia Avenue area before in digging into the history of the Steuben Monument that was once located there. That artifact is currently at the residence of the German ambassador. […]


  4. […] bit in the past when I wrote about the history of the Steuben monument and how nice it would be to have it returned to the small park at Georgia Avenue and Kenyon Street. I believe one of the key issues related to public sculpture is identifying funding for them. Along […]


  5. […] ago I suggested that the small park area at Kenyon and Georgia Avenue would be an ideal place for Washington’s original von Steuben memorial (either the original or a replica). The site is part of what was once Schuetzen Park, the original […]


  6. […] is a statue of Baron Von Steuben in Lafayette Park. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows Von […]


  7. […] is a statue of Baron Von Steuben in Lafayette Park. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows Von […]


  8. […] is a statue of Baron Von Steuben in Lafayette Park. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows Von […]


  9. […] is a statue of Baron Von Steuben in Lafayette Park. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows Von […]


  10. […] to Native Americans; Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, & the emancipation proclamation; Schuetzen Park; Howard University; Griffith Stadium and the Senators & Grays; the Bakeries of lower Georgia […]


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