Westerville's recently constructed Civic Green has a new focal point that commemorates the city's unique and intense connection to Prohibition.
A bronze, 14-foot-tall sculpture titled "The American Issue" was unveiled June 15 outside the city's municipal building, 21 S. State St.
The sculpture depicts a wedge splitting a rock in half while being pushed down by a shattering barrel. The piece is meant to signify the divisive nature of the 18th and 21st amendments, splitting the country via the weight of the alcohol debate.
Westerville was home to the headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League, which organized the push for Prohibition.
From 1893 to 1933, the Anti-Saloon League was a major force in American politics, having influence through lobbying and the printed word, according to information on the Westerville Public Library website.
Westerville was once nicknamed "The Dry Capital of the World," according to ohiohistorycentral.org, and unlike other parts of the country, Westerville remained dry even after Prohibition ended.
City Law Director Bruce Bailey, a longtime resident, spearheaded the sculpture project, helping to organize fundraising for the entirely privately funded piece, which cost $150,000. He said he wanted "something tangible or evident" to show the important role Westerville played in the history of one of America's most divisive times.
"I grew up here -- many of us grew up here -- and I think there's a real lack of understanding of the historical significance of what's here," he said. "It's always amazed me that we don't give credit to the single most historically important piece of Westerville history."
Bailey said his goal was for the sculpture to show "how thoughts and arguments divide a country," and he was "relieved" when he finally saw it in person.
"I'm thrilled to death with the sculpture," he said. "I'm really very happy with how it fits in the site."
Sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer, a Columbus resident who has done pieces for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Buckeye Boys Ranch and the Wendy's corporate headquarters, was chosen for the project. Although he said doing a project for a city was "not too different" from a lot of the work he does, the topic of Westerville's role in history was a different task than he'd had before.
"It was a really intense topic to tackle," he said. "It's so rare ... the way it has legs into the future and everything we're dealing with and having issues with today.
"It's one of those things that depends on what experience you have with it -- alcohol specifically, but also just the notion of that kind of conflict within our human experience. It's just jam-packed," he said.
Palmer said the process, especially the unveiling, was a bit "nerve-racking," but he's pleased with his final product.
"I'm really proud of what we were able to create -- something that sort of sparks a dialogue about that, but deals specifically with recognizing Westerville's role."
That dialogue is something Bailey hopes will be a lasting result of the sculpture.
He said he wants to reinforce that "Westerville changed history" in a real and lasting way, and he thinks that's a characteristic shared by very few small towns.
"The story isn't Prohibition, the story is how the divide on an issue in America split the country," he said. "What city in the U.S. has a constitutional amendment that they can say they were ground zero for? We have a national historical significance here."
If nothing else, Bailey said he hopes the sculpture will lead to a few more Westerville residents being aware of the city's history.
"I don't think people understand the story," he said. "I didn't, and I grew up here."