From 1798 to 1852, Joseph Naper was larger than life.
He was a sailor, soldier, ship builder, merchant, land surveyor, politician, husband, father and founder of what's now known as Naperville.
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But among all the sculptures, murals, plaques and places of public recognition in the city Naper founded, there was nothing honoring him.
Until Friday afternoon.
About 300 people gathered at the site of Naper's original homestead, the southeast corner of Mill Street and Jefferson Avenue, to dedicate a statue 9 1/2 feet tall in his likeness.
"We've commemorated a lot of people who have had a lot of great ideas, but we've not once commemorated our town founder and his family," said Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger, who called the new piece of public art "larger than life."
More than paying homage to the man who first settled the city in 1831, Naperville officials said the $185,000 sculpture builds on the historic interpretive site that opened in 2011 where Naper's likeness now stands.
"It serves to remind us of our city's roots and how much we can accomplish if we pursue our dreams," said Mike Krol, interim president and CEO of the Naper Settlement.
It also shows the community's gratitude to the man whose hard work, passion and "belief in the power of possibilities" helped turn Naperville from a remote prairie outpost into a "thriving community," said Sally Pentecost, chairwoman of the Naperville Heritage Society board.
Friday's ceremony offered a chance not only to view the bronze-cast Joseph Naper, but also for city leaders to thank the people and partnerships that helped the sculpture come together. Naper Settlement led the push, receiving grants from the city, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois public museums capital grant program and the Illinois state museum. Century Walk, Naperville's public art nonprofit, connected the Settlement with Dick Locher, who sketched the concept for the piece, and sculptor Jeff Adams of inBronze foundry in Mount Morris, Ill.
"Our community believes in honoring our past and providing beauty to residents and visitors through public arts," Mayor George Pradel said.
Joseph Naper is the 43rd piece of Century Walk art dedicated since 1996. He weighs 1,500 pounds and is pointing ahead, as if gazing at new land, while standing beside a 500-pound box with surveyor's tools and a compass. Artists said they researched how Naper dressed to portray him in historically accurate clothing and show him at age 33, although the only known image depicts him at 59. Adding to the recognition of the sculpture, a document marking its dedication will take its place in American history, being archived in the Library of Congress as a Congressional Record submitted by 11th District U.S. congressman Bill Foster.
For a time, there was discussion of whether the city should fund the sculpture of Naper or a sculpture of the Grinch that now stands outside the Naper Boulevard library. In the end, both were funded with Special Events and Cultural Amenities money, and Pradel said Joseph Naper now is back where he belongs -- at the spot from which the entire city of 145,000 people was formed.
"It symbolizes the commitment he had to building the town up," Pradel said.