Editor's Note: This article is part of a regular monthly series on the history of Webster City, written by local historian, Nancy Kayser.
Alexander Groves believed in his community. His benevolence was legendary. But his gift of an Abraham Lincoln bronze statue by George E. Ganiere, famed Chicago sculptor, to the students of Webster City is a legacy which has endured for 100 years.
Groves presented the statue in 1913 as a memorial to his son Harry, to remind the city youth of the greatness and ideals of Abraham Lincoln.
George E. Ganiere’s bronze of Abraham Lincoln stands seven feet, four inches high. The statue is an original design by Ganiere who took the measurements for Lincoln’s hands and face from actual masks of him.
Alexander Groves came to Hamilton County from West Virginia in 1855 with his siblings and parents, Jackson and Caroline Groves, to settle in a small cabin three miles south of Webster City. At maturity, Groves moved to his own farm near Kamrar. Along with farming, he was an accomplished cattle feeder who regularly accompanied the carloads of fat stock to the Chicago markets where the stock generally "topped the market" for the day.
Groves became quite familiar with Chicago due to his business interests and his livestock shipments. But there is no known history on how or why he selected George E. Ganiere in 1912, a teacher at the Art Institute in Chicago and well known sculptor, to create the statue of Abraham Lincoln in honor of his first born son, Harry, an accomplished Montana attorney who died of tuberculosis in 1909.
In January of 1912, the Webster City school board resolved to erect a new high school building on the site of the old city electric light and power house the southeast corner of Bank and Des Moines streets. W. J. Zitterell Company of Webster City was selected as the main contractor for the unnamed 26-room brick building which eventually cost close to $47,000.
The tribute to Alexander Groves given at a school assembly by Bess Lyons the week after his death was published in "The School's Journal" in the November 14, 1934 edition of the Freeman Journal. Lyons, county historian and local history teacher recounted in her tribute, "of the preparations made by the class of 1913 to dedicate the new high school building It was then that Mr. Groves went to the school board and offered to present the statue of Lincoln to the boys and girls of Webster City, if their high school could be honored by the name of Lincoln. The offer was accepted."
The Lincoln bronze was completed in early 1913 in the Chicago based Midway Studios of Lorado Taft, where George Ganiere's work space was located. Ganiere came to Webster City in mid-February of that year to supervise the mounting of the statue in the new high school's assembly room. The statue was then draped in sheeting awaiting its formal dedication.
Students, faculty and invited guests gathered in Lincoln High School's assembly hall on April 9, 1913 for the presentation and dedication of the Ganiere Lincoln statue. Following an invocation by Rev. Arthur Metcalf, L. A. McMurray presented the statue to the school on behalf of the Alexander Groves family. J. W. Lee, a member of the school board and Harry Miller, member of the class of 1913, made acceptance speeches.
The Groves family also hosted a concluding dedicatory service at the city's Opera House that same evening with an address on the life of Abraham Lincoln presented by Dr. George L. Scherger, head of the department of history in the Armour Institute of Chicago.
A week later, the school system held a formal open house and dedication of the new high school for the public and the citizens of the city got their first good look at the statue. After the spring break, students moved into the new building to complete that year's session.
No mention was made of the cost of the statue in the Webster City newspapers. While the event was reported by numerous state and national newspapers, only one, the Emmetsburg Democrat, published a cost. That paper, in April 16, 1912 stated the statue cost $7,500 but no background or supporting information was contained in the article. Jessie McMurray, assistant librarian at Kendall Young Library and daughter of L. A. McMurray, wrote in a July 15, 1930 reply to a letter from Lincoln National Life Insurance Company of Fort Wayne, Indiana a repository for information on all Lincoln statues "As to the price, I can only say that I have heard that it cost about $3,000, but have no authority for that."
In 1927, Alexander Groves requested that the Ganiere Lincoln statue be moved from the assembly hall to the outside of Lincoln High School so that everyone could see the statue each day and be reminded of Abraham Lincoln's great service to his country. The statue was placed on the northwest corner of the grounds on a new granite base made by the Harrison Granite Company of Chicago in August of 1927. The original Verde antique marble base was returned to the Groves family.
In 1938, Doris Neel Groves, widow of Alexander, donated the statue's original marble base for the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Dragoon Trail plaque which still stands on the northeast corner of Kendall Young Library.
Webster City students moved from the Lincoln High School to a new high school on School Street, now Lynx Avenue, in 1961. But the Lincoln statue did not follow them until September of 1964 when the Zitterell-Mills Company of Webster City brought in special equipment from Des Moines to move the five-ton granite base and the towering bronze figure to east front of the building.
W. F. Hunter, editor of the Freeman Journal related in his November 8, 1934 obituary of his great friend Alexander Groves, "Never a day passed when Mr. Groves was in the city, that he did not visit this statue in reverence. He passed it on his way to and from his home and down town and always he would stop, sometimes but briefly and for longer periods at other times."
Generations of Webster City students have gazed at the Ganiere Lincoln statue. It was Alexander Groves' hope that they might be forever influenced by the life and legend of the great leader and especially the words on the scroll "With malice toward none."
George E. Ganiere's bronze of Abraham Lincoln stands seven feet, four inches high. The statue is an original design by Ganiere who took the measurements for Lincoln's hands and face from actual life masks of him. The bronze was cast by the American Art Bronze Foundry in Chicago and originally was mounted on a Verde antique marble base from the Vermont Marble Company. The current base is granite from the Harrison Granite Company, Chicago. Lincoln's left hand holds a scroll inscribed with his second inaugural address which begins with the words "With malice toward none."