Events and People

Statues around Philadelphia, Part One

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Scattered around Philadelphia are dozens of monuments and memorials that honor individuals and groups who have influenced the development of the City and the United States. Many of these monuments, especially those that date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are statues that depict the honored individual. While the organizations that erected the statues hoped to preserve the memory of the person, stories of that individual’s accomplishments can become less well-known over the years.

Located in Independence Square south of Independence Hall, a statue of a tall man wearing a tri-cornered hat and pointing off into the distance honors Commodore John Barry, often called the “Father of the American Navy.” Born in Ireland, Barry became a sailor at a young age. By 1766, he had made Philadelphia his home and had his first command aboard the schooner Barbadoes. When the Revolutionary War began, Barry was charged with outfitting and provisioning the navy ships that sailed from Philadelphia. He was also made a Captain in the Continental Navy and given command of a new warship. During the war, Barry would fight and win several naval battles and suppress three mutinies. He returned to commanding merchant ships after the war. In the 1790s, Barry was appointed to lead the newly created federal navy and given the title of Commodore. Barry died on September 12, 1803 at his home in Strawberry Hill which was then just outside of Philadelphia. On March 16, 1907, the statue of Barry on Independence Square was presented by the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, a group of which Barry himself had once been a member, to the City of Philadelphia.

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Several statues near City Hall recognize the achievements of other military leaders. On the north side of City Hall, a statue of a soldier on horseback honors General John Fulton Reynolds, a Union commander during the Civil War who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Sculpted by the artist John Rogers, the statue was dedicated in July 1884 and placed in front of City Hall, which at that time was still under construction. Near the statue of General Reynolds, another statue of a soldier on horseback honors General George B. McClellan. Born in Philadelphia, McClellan was a Union commander during the Civil War who briefly served as general-in-chief of the Union forces. After his death in 1885, admirers of the General began raising funds for the construction of a statue in Philadelphia. Fundraising efforts, however, were not immediately fruitful and the statue was not unveiled until October 24, 1894. The dedication ceremony was attended by the McClellan family, the governors of Pennsylvania and Delaware, and several high-ranking members of the military. The ceremony included several speeches, choir performances, and a seventeen gun salute.

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Other statues in Philadelphia have nothing to do with military endeavors. Dickens and Little Nell, a statue of Charles Dickens, located in Clark Park in West Philadelphia is rumored to be the only known statue of Charles Dickens. Sculpted by Francis Edwin Elwell, the statue was exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Although Elwell took the statue to England, he was unable to install the piece there as Dickens’ will specifically forbade the creation of any monuments, memorials, or testimonials to him. The sculpture was returned to the United States where it was stored in a warehouse in Philadelphia before eventually being installed in Clark Park.


[1] Kelly, John Barry. “Commodore Barry (1745-1803): ‘Father of the American Navy.’”

[2] The New York Times. “Barry Statue Unveiled.” March 17, 1907.

[3] The New York Times. “Dickens and Little Nell.” September 17, 1893.

[4] The New York Times. “Gen. Reynold’s Statue.” November 18, 1883.

[5] The New York Times. “In Honor of Gen. McClellan.” October 25, 1894.

[6] Rosso, Martha. “Philadelphia’s Statue of Dickens and Little Nell.” The Dickens Fellowship Philadelphia Branch. April 30, 2001.