Oak Bluffs, a town in Dukes, Massachusetts, is a place that thrives on contradiction. The town is known to have started as a revivalist-movement camp meeting site filled with tents. With that being said, one would say that it is an appropriate ground for a Union Soldier statue, just like the one standing in Oak Bluffs Soldiers’ Fountain.
The fountain was given by Charles Strahan to the town of Oak Bluffs as a gift. Strahan, who served as a lieutenant in the Confederate Army, gave the six-foot-tall zinc figure of a Union Statue to Oak Bluffs to prove his allegiance to the Union in 1891 when he relocated to Martha’s Vineyard after marrying a woman from New York. The statue rests on a cast iron fountain base.
Oak Bluffs was not the original home of the Union Soldier statue which was manufactured by J.W. Fiske from the city of New York. It was originally installed in Village Square and was moved twice before being settled at the town. It was reported that the figure have collapsed due to a hurricane but was recovered by a local plumber.
Having experienced more than a hundred winters in New England, the fountain had to be repainted several times. In fact, it was discovered upon examination that the statue is coated with more than 15 layers of paint. More than that, several pieces of the statue have disappeared. Some of which are the band of the soldier’s cap, a hand and a rifle and portions of the soldier’s ammunition pack. The joints that kept the figure standing on the base were greatly damaged and its main support was weakening. With all the damages, it appeared that the monument would not last any longer unless it was completely reconstructed.
Reconstructing the project started with removing the layers of paint coating the statue. It was done to reveal the boldness of the sculpture and to see the extent of work needed to be done. After inspection, installation of a new stainless steel armature followed. New sheets made of zinc were formed and castings were created. These were from molds that are taken from another version of the stock statue. All of the deformed pieces including the damaged sheets were fused back to their original locations. Then, disassembling and restoring of the base of the statue followed. All of the failed paint coatings were removed including the casting of the replacement elements. That was the last part of the reconstruction efforts. Analysis of the paint was done afterward. Based on the analysis, a new paint system matching the original finish was applied to the figure and its foundation.
When all work was done, the units of the Soldier’s figure and the reconstructed base were brought back to Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs. The statue and fountain works were installed and after years of apparent disregard, the whole structural piece was operational once again.
In 2002, the reconstruction project of Oak Bluffs Soldiers’ Fountain was awarded as Best Conservation Treatment by SOS Heritage Preservation.