Polk County’s Doughboy, Part 2: A six-year delay, a “Fabulous Fourth,” and a concern for the future

Published 9:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Polk County News reported in May 1919 that interest had been “aroused” in a monument recognizing the young men who had served in the World War, “returning soldiers and honored dead” alike, with a dedication event expected to be held on October 10, the last day of the Polk County Fair.

But that occasion came and went, with the Soldiers Monument Association announcing that an “artistic and dignified” memorial would be finished and ready for unveiling on July 4, 1920. The cost of the project was reckoned to be $1,000, the equivalent today of $15,000. At one time a more elaborate $3,500 edifice was considered, featuring a bronze soldier. Plaques on four sides would list the names of all who served, as well as the names of county’s Confederate soldiers.

On July 18, 1919 it was reported that ten weeks of fund raising had yielded only $195 in contributions to the project from 17 donors, and it was admitted that the revised target date would not be met. In November 1920, it was suggested that the money should best be raised by the “children of the county” through “box suppers, ice cream festivals,” and other entertainment.

A sketch of a proposed monument was published showing an eagle perched atop an obelisk in the Feb. 7, 1924 Polk County News.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In March 1924, more than three years later, funds were still lacking and a design had not been agreed upon. A sketch of a proposed monument was published showing an eagle perched atop an obelisk.

After six years of effort, in May 1925, it was announced that the monies had at long last been collected, and that the memorial was under construction and would be unveiled on the upcoming Fourth of July. The “Soldiers Monument” was scaled back considerably, with its pedestal constructed of local “cobble stones and cement.” A granite plaque bore the names of seven casualties of the recent war, and credits the “school children and patriotic citizens of the county” with funding the memorial. But no expense was spared on the crowning white “marble statue of an American soldier” that became Polk County’s iconic “Doughboy.”

The July 9, 1925 Polk County News headline read, “Unveiling draws a record crowd to Columbus … the largest crowd ever before seen in the county seat at one time, hundreds of people present from all over the county and surrounding towns.” There was no lack of spirited oratory in front of a “teaming throng” gathered in the courtroom.

Polk County Senator Francis P. Bacon of Tryon welcomed the speakers and explained that funds for the monument had been raised by the school children of the county under the direction of W. A. Cannon of Lynn. Solicitor (now known as “District Attorney”), and future South Carolina governor, I. C. Blackwood of Spartanburg, spoke in “ringing words” dedicating the memorial.

An acceptance speech was then made by Polk County’s own 18th District Solicitor, J. Will Pless, Jr. of Marion, a veteran of the war, and past state commander of the American Legion. Solicitor Pless, who would later become a justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, observed that “…the American soldier does not want to be a hero, but merely has a job to do and does it in a workmanlike way.” He stated that “few of the boys knew what the war was all about, but did know that they had been called upon to defend the honor of the flag and they shouldered their guns and went to see it through … The real hero of the war was the man who came back shattered in nerve and in body to take up the battle of life where he left it, under a terrible handicap.”

Outside the county courthouse a 20-piece band struck up music ending in the national anthem to accompany the unveiling of Polk County’s now familiar Doughboy, ”a memento of the heroic deeds of every son of the rugged mountains who saw service under the stars and stripes.”

Columbus was “gay with bunting” on that Independence Day. “Dinner on the ground” was followed by “…two sizzling ball games” between Green Creek and Columbus, then Saluda and Columbus, with the visitors prevailing in both contests.

Today, our Doughboy’s face has damage to his nose, chin, right ear, and elsewhere, and is subject to the corrosive effects of acid rain. (Photo by Vincent Verrecchio)

Since that grand occasion, which could be considered the original “Fabulous Fourth” to be observed in the county seat, the Polk County Doughboy has maintained his watch over the comings and goings of generations of citizens. He’s been there through rain and snow, heat and cold, war and peace. He’s seen world events and advances in technology that no person on that day of dedication could imagine.

Our Doughboy has damage to his nose, his chin, his right ear, and elsewhere. But the greater threat is that the statue, composed of marble and calcium carbonate, is being corroded by acid rain. Already his once smooth surface has become rough textured, and fine detail has been lost. This symbol of Polk County will eventually melt away like a sugar cube in water if something is not done to stop the process.

Is it possible that protective measures can and will be taken in time for a re-dedication of the “Soldiers Monument” on the 100th anniversary of its unveiling, July 4, 2025? We owe as much to the Polk County boys who gave up their tomorrows for our today.

Submitted by Alan Leonard