After more than 100 nameless years, a historic lion statue in Gainesville has been given a name.
Before Monday, the newly named “General Gaines” was known only as “Lion A” — which is one of two copper lion statues that originally sat at the 1885 Alachua County Courthouse.
“General Gaines’” twin, “Lion B,” currently resides in the Alachua County Administration Building and is still without a name.
The Matheson History Museum brought “General Gaines” to the museum in April, where he will remain on a two-year loan, said Peggy Macdonald, the museum’s executive director. The statue is on loan from the Alachua County Commission and the Alachua County Historical Society, Macdonald said.
Macdonald said when the antique statue arrived, faculty decided to hold a contest to determine its name.
Lynn Aylward’s entry, “General Gaines,” was announced as the lion’s official name on Facebook on Monday. The name pays homage to the city’s namesake, General Edmund P. Gaines, an army officer who fought in multiple wars, including the War of 1812.
“There’s been a lot of history with both local and national impact,” Macdonald said after recounting that the courthouse was visited by both Booker T. Washington and William Jennings Bryan.
Macdonald said the process of acquiring the statue took several years and multiple letters to the county from people who felt the museum would be an optimal home for the lion.
“The people who come to the Matheson are already interested in history and are more likely to be interested in the lion than people who maybe go to a county building where they’re there on official business,” Macdonald said.
The two statues were perched atop the courthouse until it was demolished in 1961. However, several pieces were saved, including the two lions and the clock from the clock tower.
Before “General Gaines” was moved to the museum, he and his twin were restored by local artist Tom Thomas. He said the statues, which are about six feet long, were dirty and had crumpled backs.
“One lion had some toes which were no longer attached, and one lion was missing his tail,” Thomas wrote in an email.
Using epoxy and solder, Thomas said he was able to rejoin the lion’s toes and create a new tail by forming a mold with the one existing tail.
Although the statue has only been inside the museum for a couple weeks, Macdonald said the piece has already been a hit for visitors, partly because of its size.
“It’s just a perfect opportunity to educate people about the past and pique their interest,” she said. “This isn’t just a small document or photo. It’s a really large, ornate statue.”