An intense interest in commemorating the great accomplishments of George Rogers Clark had developed among the citizens of Vincennes and the state of Indiana during the early 1920s as the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution neared. After various proposals had been considered, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law a resolution establishing the George Rogers Clark Sesquicentennial Commission on May 23, 1928.
The 15-member commission was created for the purpose of "designing and constructing at or near the site of Fort Sackville . . . a permanent memorial, commemorating the winning of the Old Northwest and the achievements of George Rogers Clark and his associates. " President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the memorial June 14, 1936. In 1940, the memorial became a unit of the Indiana Department of Conservation.
In 1966, Congress made the building and grounds a part of the National Park Service. The measure was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during a ceremony at the memorial on July 23, 1966.
The Clark Memorial is more than 80 feet high and is 90 feet across at the base. The walls are two feet thick. The exterior is composed of granite from Vermont, Minnesota, and Alabama. Towering over the entrance is an eagle with outspread wings. Above the 16 Doric columns is an inscription which reads: "The Conquest of the West - George Rogers Clark and The Frontiersmen of the American Revolution."
Inside the rotunda are seven murals, each created on a single piece of Belgium linen 16 feet by 28 feet. They were painted by Ezra Winter during a period of approximately two and a half years. Hermon Atkins MacNeil, designer of the Standing Liberty quarter, sculptured the bronze statue of Clark. Three of Clark's quotations are inscribed in the memorial: "Great things have been effected by a few men well conducted;" "Our cause is just . . . our country will be grateful;" and "If a country is not worth protecting it is not worth claiming." There are Roman numerals at three locations. Left of the steps are the numerals, 1931, the year construction of the memorial began.
Above the memorial's entrance door are the Roman numerals for the years, 1779 and 1933. In 1779, Clark captured Fort Sackville from the British and in 1933, the memorial was completed. Clark's birth and death years of 1752 and 1818 encircle the statue's base.
It is highly fitting that the nation honors the great individuals and deeds of the past. Certain things do not change. The virtues that Clark and his men exhibited transcend an era. A memorial such as this serves as a reminder that courage, fortitude, and valor do not go out of style. The truly great heroes of history age well and provide guidance for the future.
To learn more about the history of the Memorial, please read the Historic Structures Report/Historical Data written by Edwin C. Bearss (1970).
Last updated: November 12, 2023