Montgomery County officials have chosen Beall-Dawson Historical Park in Rockville, the site of a home built by slave-owning Unionists, as the preferred new location for a 102-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier.
The county will send a formal request to the Rockville City Council before the end of the week to place the monument at Beall-Dawson, General Services Director David E. Dise said Wednesday.
The life-size bronze sculpture, which depicts a cavalry private standing with arms folded, sits atop an eight-foot granite pedestal on the lawn next to the Red Brick Courthouse in downtown Rockville. It has been controversial since the removal of the Rebel battle flag from South Carolina’s state capitol grounds in July. The long movement to bring the flag down reached a boiling point after the massacre of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17. The accused gunman, Dylann Roof, is an avowed racist.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) announced in July that he wanted the statue removed. He said the monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was part of an effort to “rewrite history” by creating the impression that Maryland had seceded from the Union.
The plaque on the pedestal reads: “To Our Heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland That We Through Life May Not Forget To Love The Thin Grey Line.”
“There was a thin blue line, too,” Leggett said.
Leggett’s decision touched off a passionate community debate. Some argued that the move was long overdue, while others decried it as an attempt to erase history in the name of political correctness.
County officials and historians had identified four other potential sites for the statue: Darnestown Square Heritage Park, Callithea Farm Special Park in Potomac, Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring and Edgehill Farm in Gaithersburg, owned by descendants of Confederate soldiers.
County officials said Beall-Dawson was selected because it was only a quarter-mile from the monument’s current location, keeping the historic artifact in central Rockville. The home, built in 1815 by Upton Beall, includes slave quarters above the kitchen.
“That seems to be the place that has the most significant support,” Leggett said Wednesday. “It’s in the city of Rockville, and therefore I think that will accommodate most of the people who want to see it.”
Sentiment among historians was for keeping the statue in place but adding signage and other interpretive material for context. More than half of 270 respondents to a Bethesda Magazine poll were in favor of keeping it at the courthouse. Leggett rejected the idea.
“To me, that decision was unacceptable and we’re moving it,” he said. “That’s not negotiable.”
If the Rockville City Council approves the relocation, the matter will have to return to the Rockville Historic District Commission, which approved removal of the monument last week. Because Beall-Dawson is owned by the city, the commission must also give its blessing to the monument’s placement on the property.
While the county is prepared to pay for the moving and reinstallation of the monument, it has said it will not fund any signage or interpretive material.
Matthew Logan, executive director of the Montgomery County Historical Society, which operates the park for the city, said the addition of context would be essential.
“We’re a small organization,” Logan said. “We don’t have the resources necessary without outside assistance to frankly tell what is a complex and, at this point, kind of difficult story. We want to do it right, but that’s not going to be inexpensive.”
Logan declined to say how much the additions to the monument would cost.