Statues, Monuments and Memorials to Find in Raleigh, N.C.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020, 3pm by visitRaleigh
The fascinating statues, monuments and memorials found throughout the Raleigh area are artistic gems that also reflect incredibly-rich history. These landmarks are great ways to learn about the culture, the struggles, the events, achievements and the passionate people that have played significant roles in shaping modern-day Raleigh, N.C. Tap into your sense of discovery and make these enriching reminders of the past a part of your visit.
George Washington monuments
North Carolina State Capitol
Visitors to the North Carolina State Capitol rotunda are treated to a larger-than-life marble statue of the nation’s first president dressed in a Roman’s general uniform with body armor and a short cape. This Capitol centerpiece is a copy of Antonio Canova’s original statue of Washington, which was first put on display in the State House in downtown Raleigh on Dec. 24, 1821, with great fanfare. The original piece, along with the first State House, was destroyed in a fire in 1831. If it had survived, experts say that the statue would have been one of America’s most valuable artworks.
In 1925, the General Assembly appointed a commission to secure a new replica of Canova’s original statue. In 1970, the 16-foot-tall marble replica—created by Venetian sculptor Romano Vio—finally made its debut.
An earlier replacement of Canova’s work was commissioned in 1857. This life-size bronze statue, created by William James Hubbard and Jean-Antoine Houdon, now sits on the South-facing side of the Capitol grounds. The statue depicts Washington in American military dress—a stark contrast to Canova’s piece.
Presidents North Carolina gave the nation
North Carolina State Capitol
Washington isn’t the only president you’ll find commemorated on Capitol grounds. Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk—the presidents “North Carolina gave the nation”—are depicted in bronze and granite on the east side of Union Square. Created by American sculptor Charles Keck, the monument features a shield bearing stars and stripes flanked by Polk, holding a map, and Andrew Johnson holding the Constitution. Behind them, Jackson sits proudly on his horse. President Truman gave an address at the dedication ceremony of “Three Presidents” in 1948 and it was unveiled by descendants of each president.
Local tip: Surrounding the Capitol are a myriad of other notable pieces. The North Carolina Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1987 on the northeast side of the building, honoring the more than 206,000 men and women of the state who served in the Vietnam War. Just outside the northern side of the building is the unmissable, 40-foot-tall North Carolina Veterans Monument, which Lady Liberty stands atop. Dedicated in 1990, the monument honors veterans from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Established in 2006 and formally dedicated in 2013, the Garner Veterans Memorial was designed to honor all veterans, especially those who died during conflict and war. The monument features rows of tall, engraved concrete slabs flanking the Walkway of Honor—a brick path engraved with the names of servicemen and servicewomen. Smaller north-facing slabs bear the names of Garner-area residents. While there, visitors can also read a historical narrative about the wars and conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved. The design and build was done by local architect Mon Peng Yueh and artist Thomas Sayre.
Veterans Freedom Park in Cary is another unique memorial designed to honor past and present veterans of all branches of the U.S. military. Your visit begins in the memorial court where hoisted service flags wave and the property’s original veteran sculpture stands. From there, walk up to the stunning, 90-foot-tall, white granite spire monument. The five seals from each branch of the military circle the base of the spire, and below, a bronze angel hangs from the symbol of the fallen—a rifle mounted with a helmet. Both intimate and inviting, the memorial serves as a space for quiet reflection.
At the nation’s first public park solely devoted to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, you’ll encounter a life-size bronze statue of the civil rights leader himself. It’s thought to be the only one depicting King in his doctorate clergy robe. The gardens encircling the statue are filled with a colorful variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants. Bonus features at the gardens include a granite water feature honoring the area’s notable civil rights pioneers as well as a 2,500-brick pathway recognizing state and national supporters.
Sir Walter Raleigh
Raleigh Convention Center
Known for being a writer, soldier, courtier and explorer, the city’s namesake Sir Walter Raleigh also makes for a rather-striking bronze statue. Located in front of the Raleigh Convention Center, the 11-foot statue—often dressed by locals to match the occasion for big events—stands with his left hand on his hip and his right arm holding a cape. Created by Bruno Lucchesi, a world-renowned Italian American sculptor, the statue was dedicated in 1976 (a full 75 years after the idea for the statue was first proposed!).
The Raleigh Acorn
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
If you’ve gotten a chance to attend First Night Raleigh, then you’ve probably seen the The Raleigh Acorn drop from the sky, ringing in the new year. For those visiting the City of Oaks at any other time of the year, this copper art piece can also be seen out front of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Weighing in at a whopping 1,250 pounds, the acorn was created by local sculptor David Benson and was donated for the city’s bicentennial in 1992.
Frederick Augustus Olds
North Carolina Museum of History
Considered the father of the North Carolina Museum of History, Frederick Augustus Olds was an early advocate of “social history” (history about and for the people). Olds started a campaign to encourage people to save historic artifacts and documents, requesting these items be sent to him. He collected some three hundred items which served as the basis of the Hall of History which opened in 1902 and is today known as the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. Olds ran the museum for 32 years and personally collected nearly 30,000 artifacts in that time.
A bronze statue of Frederick Augustus Olds welcomes visitors at the museum’s entrance. Bookend your day at the museum with glimpses of Augustus in his suit and hat, holding a key in his right hand.
Local tip: Other statues outside of the museum include Thomas Day—a free black man who, through his skills and personal endeavors, became one of the most prolific producers of furniture in the state during the antebellum period—and the Sauratown Woman, a seventeenth-century Native American member of the Saura tribe, who lived along the banks of the Dan River in Piedmont North Carolina and Virginia. The unnamed woman was forensically reconstructed from archaeological remains found at the village of Upper Sauratown in present-day Stokes County, N.C.
Legendary Wolfpack basketball coaches
William Neal Reynolds Coliseum
Opened in 1949 and considered one of the “hallowed spaces” on the North Carolina State University campus, Reynolds Coliseum has been the site of numerous ACC and NCAA Tournaments. It’s also home to Coaches Corner, a group of statues unveiled in 2016 memorializing four legendary Woflpack basketball coaches—Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Everett Case and Kay Yow, plus the coaches who won NCAA championships, Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano.
Yow served as head coach of the N.C. State women’s basketball team, accumulating 737 wins and four ACC Championships. She also won a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics as the head coach of the USA women’s basketball team. Valvano coached from 1980 to 1990, winning one NCAA championship in 1983 and receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. His inspirational acceptance speech is played every year before the ESPY awards.
Fallen Firefighters Memorial
Nash Square Park
Nash Square is a lush, green patch complete with four walking paths that’s smack dab in the middle of downtown Raleigh. While it's possible to stroll right through, enjoying the shady trees and blooming perennials, you’d be remiss if you missed the Fallen Firefighters Memorial—a bronze statue of four life-size firefighters on a granite base. Energy radiates from this piece which depicts a daring scene of three heroes racing to rescue another trapped beneath a fallen beam. The sculpture is also inscribed with the names of the state’s fallen firefighters. The memorial was dedicated in 2006.
North Carolina State University
At 115 feet tall, the Memorial Belltower soars over Hillsborough St. at the northeast corner of the university’s campus. Built to honor North Carolina State University alumni who were killed in World War I, the war memorial has become a symbol of inspiration for the Wolfpack community. The tower, made of 1,400 tons of granite, is set on a 700-ton concrete base and blends Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Construction was completed in the 1940s and the Belltower, called “a legend in stone," was dedicated in 1949.
Today, the Belltower is a stately and dramatic landmark where students, locals and visitors pose for many a picture. The tower is even illuminated with red floodlights to mark the school's proudest occasions and achievements.