A print of the famous “The Spirit of ’76” painting by Archibald Willard in 1876, will hang in the historic Russell Town Hall. As a young boy, the artist lived in what was then Russell Township.
Mr. Willard’s family home on Bell Road next to the Rarick Cemetery now is in South Russell. South Russell, the southern section of Russell Township, incorporated as the village in 1923.
The framed color print was given to the Russell Historical Society recently by the Chagrin Falls Historical Society which had owned it and displayed it in the society’s former museum on Walnut Street in Chagrin Falls.
It was appraised in 1993 at $750. The old framing sticker on the reverse side was done by Guenther’s Galleries in the early 20th century. A limited quantity of the print that is 48-by-34 inches was produced in its size.
Helen “Barney” Bakken of Chagrin Falls donated the print to the Chagrin Falls Historical Society in 1993 in memory of her grandfather Joseph Kendrick, according to Pat Zalba of the Chagrin museum, now located on East Washington Street. The print at one time hung in the den of Ms. Bakken’s grandfather’s home, where she recalled looking at it while standing on the couch as a young girl.
Ultimately, Ms. Bakken believed the painting needed a museum location and donated it in memory of her grandfather, according to Pat Zalba of the Chagrin Falls Historical Society.
Mr. Willard presented the life-sized original painting to the U.S. at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. His grandfather had served in the Revolutionary War, according to historical accounts. The model for the man in the center of the painting was his own father, the Rev. Samuel Willard.
Rev. Willard had been pastor of the Baptist Church of South Russell. It eventually became part of the Federated Church in Chagrin Falls. While in South Russell, Rev. Willard sold a half acre of his land, west of the house for a burial ground for the residents of the southern part of Russell. It is now known as the historic Rarick Cemetery.
Young Archibald was said to have painted and sketched on the walls of the house on Bell Road, however the current owners have never found signs of those paintings. He was 14 when the farm was sold to Isaac Rarick in about 1850, and his family moved to Wellington, Ohio. A barn on the property was said to have been used to hide slaves escaping from the South and heading toward Lake Erie. Both the house and barn still stand in South Russell.
Mr. Willard’s painting of “The Spirit of ’76” is considered one of the most famous paintings in American history. It features two drummers and a young fife player marching with the 13-star American flag, marking the spirit of the American Revolution. The older drummer was modeled after his father.
Historians have stated that Mr. Willard likely painted it in Wellington, Ohio. The original is at the Abbot Hall in Marblehead, Mass.
Mr. Willard’s artistic beginnings are believed to have been self-taught. He painted scenes on the sides of horse-drawn farm and circus wagons for the E.S. Tripp Carriage Factory in Wellington, Ohio. The artist was 40 when he painted the now famous Spirit of ’76.
He was born in Bedford, Ohio in 1836 and his father moved his family to Russell Township in about 1850 where Rev. Willard built a house.
Young Archibald’s grandfather Jonathan Willard was a Revolutionary War veteran. Archibald would later marry Nellie S. Challacombe, and he served in the Civil War.
He painted murals that were displayed in the Fayette County Court House. Archibald Willard died on Oct. 11, 1918 in Cleveland. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Wellington, Ohio.
The Chagrin Falls historical society’s board of trustees approved giving the print to the Russell Historical Society, Mrs. Zalba said.
Russell Historical Society member Mary Mobilia picked up the print, delivering it to the Russell Town Hall which is at the corner of Chillicothe (Route 306) and Kinsman (Route 87) roads.
Member Jeanne Schroeder said the print will be surrounded by other township memorabilia reflecting the history of Russell.
“We thank the Chagrin Falls Historical Society for the gift,” Mrs. Schroeder said.
She noted that Russell Historical Society was sent a book on the Russell Township Board of Education and another book containing notes on the restoration of the historic Brian Hill Church that serves as a meeting hall at the Briar Hill Cemetery on Fairmount Road. Everyone likes to see such historical items “going home,” she said.