For a long time, drivers on The Bronx River Parkway through this northern borough of New York City were surprised when they noticed the statue of a lonely Civil War soldier on a pedestal in the middle of the adjacent Bronx River.
The river actually is a stream that starts about 20 miles north of The Bronx and empties into the waters that surround the city. About 30 years ago, the true story about this soldier statue finally was documented.
Intended For Woodlawn Cemetery
The statue was sculpted from granite by John Grignoloa for the Oliver Tilden Post of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic). It was intended for the G.A.R. burial plot in nearby Woodlawn Cemetery, a crowded place of rest for the famous and not so famous who lived their lives in The Bronx over the last 150 years. The cemetery contains the remains of many Civil War officers.
Grignoloa sculpted the figure of a uniformed Civil War soldier. Wearing a soldier’s kepi (government-issue hat) and a long coat, the soldier leans “at ease” on his musket. For unknown reasons, the visor was broken and the foot chipped, forcing the G.A.R. to reject the sculpture and commission a similar metal version from another source. This second sentinel still stands on the G.A. R. cemetery monument. The granite version was relegated to the back of Grignoloa’s studio.
A few years after it was rejected, the granite solider was discovered by a gentleman who visited the studio. He is identified only as B. Lazzari, a partner in a company that built monuments and mausoleums for Woodlawn Cemetery. Lazzari’s home was nearby, on the west bank of the Bronx River, just south of the cemetery. The area was then known as the village of Williamsbridge before this lower part of Westchester County, which is north of Manhattan, was annexed and renamed The Bronx by New York City.
Lazzari liked the statue he found at the Grignoloa studio and he had it placed among the other granite figures that adorned his property.
Soon after, Lazzari built a wooden foot bridge across the Bronx River so he would have easy access to his home without walking to the public bridge a short distance away. Eventually, the footbridge became a public means of transportation for a business (the first in America to manufacture hand-made tapestries) located across the river from Lazzari’s property. This public use of his private bridge angered Lazzari. He destroyed the bridge, leaving just the granite pier support standing in the middle of the river.
During 1898, when he no longer fancied the Civil War soldier, Lazzari moved the statue to the pier. With the help of friends, he cut a hole in the base of the statue so a pipe protruding from the top of the pier would fit snugly into the base of the soldier. As a finishing touch, the men cut “1898” in the western face of the base.
Once the history of the statue was documented, it was restored and placed in the front yard of the 18th Century Valentine-Varian House, which is the home of The Bronx County Historical Society. Situated on a secondary thoroughfare (Bainbridge Avenue) in a busy residential and commercial part of the borough, the soldier still stands guard today before this house that saw action during the Revolutionary War. But that is a story for another time.