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FEMA conducts site inspection of Rachel at the Well


This past Wednesday (April 5), a four-member team from FEMA conducted a site inspection of the damage suffered by The Spirit of Fort Myers during Hurricane Ian.

The 96-year-old Grecian maiden, who is better known as Rachel at the Well, was badly damaged when the bougainvillea behind the statue caught Hurricane Ian’s estimated 110-mile-per-hour winds like the sail of a mighty schooner, toppling the heavy wrought-iron fence with which it had become entwined. Both landed on top of the sculpture, cracking the maiden’s elegant neck and breaking her back at the hips. Buffeted by gale force winds over the next several hours, the bougainvillea’s spiked branches lashed Rachel’s exposed arms and dress with abrasions and scratch marks while grinding mud and leaves into her delicate surface.

Within days of the storm’s passage, Parks & Beautification employees working in tandem with the City’s Public Art Committee carefully cut away the tattered bougainvillea and lifted the wrought iron from the sculpture’s head and back. A few days later, they returned at the direction of the City’s Miami-based conservation team (Rosa Lowinger & Associates) that’s been caring for the sculpture since 2014, to wrap the statue with orange mesh fencing that’s intended to hold the sculpture in place until she can be restored.

Although the City acted quickly to obtain written estimates for the sculpture’s conservation, repairing the artwork is only part of the process. Snell Brothers developer James D. Newton envisioned the Grecian maiden as the centerpiece of an entrance framed by two coined columns topped by obelisks. During the storm, the western column collapsed into a pile of rubble. While the eastern column remained standing, it sustained numerous fissures and gouges that mar its aesthetics and threaten its structural integrity.

Although the art conservators have been standing by since the end of last year, the City deemed it best allow FEMA to examine the damage caused by Ian before removing any of the debris or starting work to restore either the sculpture or the two columns. Not only should this enable the City to qualify for maximum reimbursement of the costs of restoration, inspecting the actual damage will also enable FEMA to make specific recommendations of the measures the City can take to prevent or mitigate such damage in the event of another tropical cyclone.

Now that the site inspection has been completed, Edison Park and all Fort Myers residents hope to see some progress in the sculpture’s conservation and replacement of the adjoining columns and decorative fence in the immediate future. To facilitate that process and keep everyone better informed, the City has convened a Steering Committee that includes City Staff, members of both the Public Art Committee and Historic Preservation Committee and residents of Edison Park.

While a timetable for defining the scope of work and beginning and completing the contemplated conservation/construction has yet to be formulated, watch this space for future developments.

April 8, 2023.


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