Statue of Naperville founder unveiled
On the southeast corner of Jefferson Avenue and Mill Street — the very spot where 182 years ago Joseph Naper carved out what is now known as the Naper Homestead — Naperville leaders Friday unveiled a nine and one half-foot tall statue of the city’s founder.
Mayor George Pradel and Naperville Heritage Society President and CEO Mike Krol pulled the covering off the statue showing Naper’s outstretched hand beckoning to other pioneers to join him.
“Our town believes in honoring its past,” Pradel said before the unveiling.
The statue weighs 1,500 pounds, is composed primarily of bronze and includes a smaller accompanying sculpture depicting a tree stump and tools.
The work is the 43rd piece in Naperville’s Century Walk collection of public art and was financed through various grants from public entities, among them the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the city of Naperville’s SECA fund and the Illinois State Museum.
The statue is based on a likeness created by Pulitzer Prize-winning Naperville resident Dick Locher and cast in bronze by artist and sculpture Jeff Adams.
Locher paid careful attention to detail in creating the likeness.
“I’m very happy with it,” he said. “I’ve always been a fan of history.”
Locher said that although all the pieces he had been involved with in the Century Walk were special to him and specific to the period which they represented, the Naper likeness provided a special challenge because of the lack of historic material with which to work.
“There’s only that one photo of him,” he said.
Locher praised Adams’ finished product, saying, “He works magic with metal.”
During his remarks to the 200 people that packed into the small space, Adams was equally generous in his praise of Locher.
“Dick showed how to pose it so he had life,” he said.
Adams noted that the statue was designed and built with the idea of it being an important point of historical interest long after everyone at the unveiling was gone.
“We built this to last 1,000 years,” he said.
Born in Vermont and raised in Ohio, Naper followed in his father’s footsteps as a shipbuilder, and the family’s ships prowled the Great Lakes throughout the middle of the 19th century.
On one of his trips to the Chicago area, Naper picked out a homestead, founded Naperville and embarked on a life’s work that included building a trading post, lumber mill, businesses, homes and even digging a quarry.
Naper became the first village president and served in various other elected offices, including the Illinois State Legislature.
He surveyed the land and mapped out the streets of the settlement and helped to create religious organizations and the town’s first schools.
Like many men in the early days of the nation, Naper served militarily, helping to organize the defense of Naperville during the Black Hawk War and joining the U.S. Army to fight in the Mexican War, when he was almost 50 years old.
City Manager Doug Krieger noted the cooperative effort required to make the statue a reality.
“It’s a perfect example of partnership between the many organizations that make this community work,” he said, praising the Century Walk and the Naperville Heritage Society.
Naperville hasn’t been shy about honoring local heroes, and the odd fact that Joseph Naper had never been recognized with a statue or anything of similar significance didn’t escape the notice of many at the unveiling, particularly those born and raised in Naperville.
“I’m just sorry that it took 182 years,” City Councilman Paul Hinterlong said. “He was an amazing man, a visionary man that we all take for granted ... he had a plan for this town.”