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Statue of President Millard Fillmore to greet passersby on East Aurora corner

President Millard Fillmore (provided by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society)

Millard Fillmore will be sitting on a new bench at the corner of Shearer Avenue and Main Street in East Aurora, his right hand resting on a dictionary, as he looks up from a book he holds in his left hand. A pathway would connect his bench to the former president's home on Shearer and the new bronze statue will help point the way to the house, a national historical site.

"I hope it invites people to sit down next to the president and take a picture,"said Susan M. McBurney, president of the Aurora Historical Society.

Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States, started his law and political career in East Aurora and built a small house on Main Street in the village for his wife in 1826. The house was moved to Shearer in the 1930s when Margaret Evans Price bought it and used it as her studio. The historical society acquired it in 1975 and returned it to circa 1826 decor.

The historical society has commissioned noted Youngstown artist Susan Geissler to create the bronze sculpture of Fillmore. She decided to portray Fillmore as an older man, visiting East Aurora after his presidency. He served from 1850 to 1853.

"My inspiration comes when I start doing the research on the man himself to find out what his life was all about," Geissler said.

She said Fillmore, who was born into poverty, loved books and created the first library in the White House. Like any subject, there are many facets of Fillmore's life that could be portrayed, she said.

"One of the significant things about his character is that he carried this dictionary around," she said. "That seemed like a very nice way to portray that part of him."

Artist Susan Geissler works on a sculpture in her studio in Youngstown, N.Y. (News file photo)

Geissler has created several other sculptures that have become landmarks in Western New York. She sculpted the Freedom Crossing Monument and Tuscarora Heroes Monument, both in Lewiston, a Founding Fathers monument in Niagara Falls and a statue of Battle of Midway hero C. Wade McClusky that stands at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.

This would not be the first sculpture of Fillmore in the Buffalo Niagara region; there is one outside Buffalo City Hall.

A statue of Millard Fillmore, outside of City Hall in Buffalo. (News file photo)

The Village of East Aurora conveyed the small parcel at the corner of Shearer and Main to the historical society in 2012. Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst Architects has designed the corner with Fillmore's statue as the focal point.

"You take all of it and having him seated on a bench would be a very inviting thing for the public." Geissler said. "You want people to interact with it."

The historical society hopes erecting the statue on the village's busiest street will help draw more visitors to the Millard Fillmore House.

"It will give us a Main Street presence," McBurney said.

The cost of the sculpture and site work, walkways and landscaping is estimated at $120,000 to $140,000. The society has a GoFundMe page and is holding its first major fundraiser, "Millard on Main," from 4 to 6 p.m. June 25, which developer James W. Cornell is underwriting. A grand prize of a trip for two to Panama will be part of the fundraising effort. If the society raises $75,000 by January 2019, it can receive a matching grant of $50,000 from an anonymous donor.

The society has named the different levels of financial sponsorship the president, vice president, congressman, chancellor, comptroller and assemblyman levels, for the milestones in Fillmore's life.

Orchard Park music teacher Rachelle Francis will be playing Fillmore's daughter's rosewood piano and sheet music during the fundraiser. Mary Abigail Fillmore often acted as hostess for events at the White House, and she played the piano and harp, which also is in the house. She died from cholera at her grandparents' house in East Aurora when she was 22, Francis said.

In his later years, Fillmore used to sit in the cobbler shop in East Aurora and read Shakespeare, she said.

"Ultimately, we would like to replicate his law office, which was burned on Main Street," she said.

But for now, a likeness of the president with his dictionary, one of his first purchases as a young man, will give Fillmore and his house more visibility.

"We're hoping it's an opportunity for people to stop and look and inquire more," McBurney said.

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