Plans are in the works for a new monument in Veterans Park illuminating a lesser-known figure who played a key role in the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

The ode to the American Revolution is a collaboration between the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Polk County Veterans Council and Platform Art.

Plans call for the “Path to Freedom” Veterans Park project to be installed in 2026, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The monument plan is a part of the America250 initiative, a nationwide, grassroots commemoration of the American Revolution highlighting the declaration.

J. Lenora Bresler, regent of the Lakeland chapter of the DAR, asked Lakeland city commissioners in December to approve placement of the monument in the city-owned Veterans Park just west of the RP Funding Center. The commission is expected to vote on the request in January.

Proposed monument concept

The proposed 360-degree sculpture features a replica of Mary Katherine Goddard, the printer of the Declaration of Independence and the only female whose name appears on the document, and would showcase:

  • Six bronze etchings, angled in a semi-circle to showcase the events that caused the American Revolution
  • A re-creation of a Revolutionary War printing press, in which a standing Mary Katherine Goddard would be printing the Declaration of Independence
  • A re-creation of a readable Declaration of Independence, with the names of the signers, and Mary Katherine Goddard’s name etched in a flipped-up corner, showing who printed it

The cost of the full project is estimated at $400,000 to $500,000 and the timeline spans from July 2022-2026, culminating in a dedication on July 4, 2026. The committee overseeing the project is working with the GiveWell Community Foundation to set up an account to raise the funds. For now, people interested in donating to the effort can do so via Platform Art’s Public Art Fund, according to Platform’s Cynthia Haffey, part of the project’s organizing committee.

The plan for the project is similar to how other completed monument initiatives came to the city, such as the Tribute to Lineman at Lakeland Electric and the Sound Wall at Bonnet Springs Park.

The proposed sculptor for the monument is Becky Ault, an award-winning artist and co-founder of ART Design Group and ARTResearch Enterprises, Inc. in Lancaster, Pa. Ault’s work is featured around the United States and Florida and is known for her work in Lakeland, such as the Spanish American War Monument at Veterans Park and the Law Enforcement Honor Guard Memorial at the Lakeland Police Department.

The design idea was conceived by Ault, who envisioned an inclusive art piece highlighting a lesser-known figure in history.

“We felt like that would be very appropriate to the America250 commission’s request that it be all-inclusive and that it be something that would draw in really anybody who could think of themselves as ‘that could have been me, I could have been a part of that, the founding of this country,’ ” Bresler said.

The location for the potential monument would be the northeast sector of Veterans Park adjacent to the Bicentennial Rose Garden. The pick for this spot was intentional, according to Bresler, as the idea is that the 250th monument would connect to the rose garden by a “Path to Freedom.”

“Placing it in Veterans Park would be appropriate because it would also call attention to our Revolutionary War soldiers and those who supported their efforts,” Bresler said.

The Lakeland project committee for America250 is made up of members from several organizations:

  • J. Lenora Bresler, regent, Lakeland Chapter, DAR (chair)
  • Marchella McGinnis, first vice regent, Lakeland Chapter, DAR
  • Don Selvage, Polk County Veterans Council (secretary)
  • Gary Clark, Polk County Veterans Council
  • Cynthia Haffey, Platform Art
  • Dr. Alan Snyder, professor of history, author, Southeastern University
  • Pam Page, City of Lakeland Parks and Recreation

Included in the project plan is also a student art competition, where art may potentially be incorporated either in the main sculpture or the bronze etchings.

In the long term, the America250 committee plans to create a lesson plan for teachers to use during history lessons while doing a walk-through of the park’s monuments. A plan for a docent-led tour, similar to the city’s tours around Lake Mirror, is also being planned.

No ordinances would be required for the monument, according to the city. City commissioners said they’d like to see the proposal on an upcoming January agenda to be put to a vote, after giving time public feedback.

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Kaylee Holland is a writer, hiker, and popcorn enthusiast based in Central Florida. She particularly enjoys combining the art of storytelling and its impact to ignite change within communities and has lived in Lakeland on and off for 10 years. Before coming to LkldNow, Kaylee was a writer and editor with LALtoday. You can reach her at 239.826.0954 or Kayleekholland@gmail.com.

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