Meet Pvt. George Washington Fair, standing guard over downtown Dayton since 1884

The story behind the man cast for Dayton’s downtown Civil War monument

The model for the Civil War soldier who stands guard along Main Street posed only after his first wife, Emily, twisted his arm.

A statue of the Goddess of Liberty was originally intended to top the monument, according to a 1923 Dayton Daily News story, but ex-Civil War soldiers insisted on a Union soldier.

A search went out for “some broad-shouldered, military-looking private soldier who would meet the ideal of the heroic sentinel,” according to the newspaper account.

ExploreThe long, twisting history of Dayton's giant Main Street monument

Pvt. George Washington Fair, a Dayton-born bricklayer and carpenter who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, filled the bill for the search committee, but they had a hard time convincing him.

Described as “a modest and unassuming gentleman,” Fair only agreed his likeness could be carved out of marble after “his wife’s aid was enlisted.”

Fair was born May 22, 1834, as the youngest of 13 children to parents Charles Fair and Elizabeth Marr, both originally from Maryland who settled in Dayton around 1830. Six of the eight boys in the family served during the Civil War, and three were killed.

Fair enlisted and discharged three times with the Union Army from 1861 to 1865.

For the photograph, Fair was taken to the National Soldiers’ Home, where he was provided with a musket, belt, scabbard, cartridge box and a No. 4 size Union uniform, the Grand Army of the Republic’s largest issue.

He was then taken to the North Main Street studio of photographer C.H. Miller, where he posed for four separate photographs.

The newspaper account describes the photo session taking place on a steaming hot day as Fair posed in a heavy soldier’s overcoat.

“The picture gallery was like a furnace room on that sweltering day, and the ordeal undergone by the soldier thus clad in heavy clothing as if for mountain picket duty in mid-winter was almost as trying as facing death on the battlefield,” it said.

The photographs were sent to a sculptor in Italy, and the completed statue arrived in New York on May 27, 1884, after a six-week voyage by ship. It arrived in Dayton five days later.

A crowd of 100,000 people, one of the city’s largest at a time when Dayton’s population was reported to be 40,000, crowded in for the dedication on July 31, 1884.

The monument stood at Main Street and Water Street (Later Monument Ave.) for many years, but as cars replaced the horse and buggy, it became widely regarded as an obstacle to the orderly flow of traffic on North Main Street.

The marble monument was moved to Sunrise Park on Riverview Avenue in 1948 and returned to Main Street, with a new bronze cast of Private Fair, in 1991.

The original marble statue, damaged by the elements, is now located under a portico at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

Pvt. Fair died Jan. 21, 1888, of ‘general disability,” following a two-year illness, and is buried at Woodland Cemetery.

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