Summer Road Trip with Chuck D’Imperio: The Proctor Eagle

Very few Upstate cities are as synonymous with a single name as Utica is.  Cooperstown has its Clarks, Rochester has its Eastmans and Utica has its Proctors.

Thomas Redfield Proctor came to the city around 1869 and quickly established himself as a hotelier of significance.  His Bagg’s Hotel, Butterfield House and Spring House Hotel (Richfield Springs) were among the most popular and posh overnight accommodations in the region.  Once he became wealthy, Proctor (and his extended family) was benevolent to their city beyond compare.  He financed a parks system in Utica that quickly became the envy of similar sized cities in the U.S.  It is in one of those parks that an everlasting tribute to this giant figure in Utica’s history still stands today.

From it’s exquisite aerie high atop the 400-acre Roscoe Conkling Park (named for legendary three-term U.S. Senator from Utica) sits the majestic “Proctor Eagle.”   Upon his death on July 4, 1920, his wife, Maria commissioned a heroic image of an American Eagle about to take flight.  This eagle sits atop a tall marble base.  The direction of the eagle’s flight path reaches out over the city of Utica and on to the sweeping foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.  While it is almost akin to detective work to try and discern the impetus behind the creation of some great memorials, the Proctor Eagle leaves no question as to its origin.

It commemorates an actual event.

A plaque affixed to this dynamic eagle monument reads:  “This monument is erected to the memory and honor of Thomas Redfield Proctor by his wife.  He was an incorruptible citizen and pure patriot.  If asked what he wished for in reward for any good public deed he would reply, “I want nothing.”  An American Eagle in a cage was once offered to him.  He bought it and liberated it on the 4th of July.  It paused for a moment and then took flight.  He also was given his liberty on the 4th of July, 1920 and went the way the bird did, seeking his native element and the true Father of his country.”

The view from the Proctor Eagle high atop Conkling Park is one of the most beautiful of any monument sites I have researched in the state.

While visiting the Proctor Eagle simply turn around and look over the fence into Forest Hill Cemetery.  The first large grave you can see is that of James Schoolcraft Sherman. Sherman was a political contemporary of Conklings, a fellow Utica native and a man who served as 27th vice-president of the United States. 

Chuck D’Imperio

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