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Empire State Plaza: George Washington Statue


The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York serves as the seat of government for New York State. While decisions made here dictate the future of New Yorkers, these grounds also offer a tribute to the past. I experienced this first hand when I visited the beautiful New York State World War II Memorial in May. In my return visit, I had the chance to visit a number of other sites of remembrance and tribute on the Empire State Plaza.

As someone who cherishes every word ever uttered by George Washington, I was thrilled to visit his statue near the Capitol building in Albany. The life-size bronze cast of Washington stands in the plaza in front of the Legislative Office Building.

The George Washington cast in Albany is a reproduction of a famous original marble made by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon. Thomas Jefferson secured Houdon’s services for this project while serving as Minister to France. The New York State Office of General Services writes, “This was vital to the project, as there were no sculptors in America in the 1780’s who were capable of creating a portrait statue.” Houdon’s original sculpture of Washington can be found in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. To ensure the highest degree of accuracy, Houdon traveled to George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia. At Mount Vernon, Houdon took detailed measurements of Washington and created a clay bust.

An important note to make about the sculpture is that Washington is depicted wearing the uniform of a Revolutionary officer. According to the New York State Office of General Services, Washington made this choice “over the classical garb often adopted in portraits of statesmen at that time.” Throughout his life, George Washington always identified himself as a military man. A great example of this can be found in 1772 when Washington had his first portrait done by Charles Wilson Peale. Although 13 years had passed since Washington resigned his military commission from his service in the French and Indian War, he donned a uniform reminiscent of that time for his portrait. In his book, Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow writes that Washington “still prided himself on a military identity.” Chernow added further that Washington’s decision of attire foretold “his eagerness to resume his military career.” When Washington did resume his military career, he led the Continental Army as Commander-in-Chief for the duration of the Revolutionary War. While Washington would serve as the first President of the United States, it’s important to remember that he took great pride in his military background. This eternal reminder will always be evident in his statue in Albany, New York and many other monuments throughout the country.

The Washington statue in Albany is one of nearly twenty bronze copies of the sculpture that were made in the mid-nineteenth century. The New York State Office of General Services adds that it “was ordered on May 13, 1932 by the New York State Commission for the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of George Washington.” Washington’s sculpture was unveiled in West Capitol Park on Armistice Day, November 11, 1932.

The New York State Commission dedication plaque for the sculpture to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

The first line on the plaque of the statue states, "By his faith in god and man he built our nation." I could not possibly think of more fitting words to honor Washington. He dedicated his life in service of his country, and every American must understand that none of us would be here today had it not been for George Washington. The American spirt that has prevailed through time and space started with him. This statue will stand as an eternal reminder of that.

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