Sons Of Charlemagne

Title: Sons Of Charlemagne
Artist: Anonymous
Medium: Sculpture – Bronze
Location: State Route 64 on the Main Street Bridge
Owner: City of St. Charles
Map Locator Number: #19

Story:  St. Charles’ Main Street Fox River bridge was originally constructed in 1902.  Extensive bridge improvements made in 1928 were designed by St. Charles philanthropist and Chicago Tribune cartoonist, Lester Norris.  Norris got the inspiration for the alteration to the bridge design from bridges he saw while on his trips to Italy.

The fox sculptures on the Main Street Bridge in St. Charles were a gift to the city from Herbert Crane of Crane Plumbing fame, who loved the Fox Valley and built Wild Rose Farm on Crane Road.  They were cast in France and placed originally on marble balustrades on the bridge designed by Mr. Norris in 1927. The balustrades, patterned after a Roman bridge admired my Mr. Norris in his travels abroad, were replaced in 1973 by a contemporary railing of Cor-Ten steel, designed by Robert Lathe.

Charles Lamb used the sketches made by Norris to construct the bridge.  Workers widened and reconstructed the bridge and added the new embellishments.  The current bridge was under construction from 1997-1998.  The original four bronze fox sculptures from the 1928 bridge were installed on the new bridge.

In a 1969 contest sponsored by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce to name the fox that represents St. Charles, student Katherine Bernardi won with her entry of “Charlemagne.”  Former mayor of St. Charles and civic leader, C.V. Amenoff, followed in 1970 with a story he wrote called the Legend of the Four Sons of Charlemagne to commemorate the history of St. Charles and the four fox sculptures.  The story appears in its entirety on the Art in Public Places web site.

The Charlemagne Award, created in 1968 and named after Mayor Amenoff’s story, is a lifetime achievement award given to an individual with a history of distinguished service to the community by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce.  These iconic sculptures, the story of The Legend of the Four Sons of Charlemage, the Charlemagne Award, and Volunteerism, were given greater visibility with the development of Volunteer Plaza.  Each engraved paver in the Plaza, circling the reflections sculpture, represents a winner of the Charlemagne Award.


Sons Of Charlemagne is featured on the Art Tour.  Download the Otocast app on your electronic device to hear the artist’s story.


Photographs for the SCAC by Karen Muehlfelt

The Legend of the Four Sons of Charlemagne
By St. Charles, Illinois, Mayor C.V. Amenoff. 1970

It was autumn the year, 1833. The sun in the west was lending its last full rays to add greater resplendence to the autumnal livery of the trees and bushes lining the banks of the meandering river coursing its way through the wilderness. All was peaceful and serene, the silence being broken only by the sound of wildlife making their way through bushes homeward at dusk, or the fish at play in the fast-moving river. Occasionally the sound of a musket could be heard in the distant prairies to the east.

Four fox stretched out lazily on the banks of the river at the foot of the trail leading to their den, awaiting the return of their father Charlemagne. He had left early in the morning to listen in at an emergency session of the Indian chiefs whose tribal lands were being threatened by the white men, now coming to settle in this area. As the sun dipped below the horizon, Charlemagne came into view, trotting slowly to join his family. Immediately the four fox fell in line as Charlemagne led them up the trail to their den.

It was readily apparent to the four sons that their father was in a troubled mood and sad, sad as he was when their mother died a few years before. Impatiently they awaited his report on the council of the Indian chiefs. After resting a few minutes, Charlemagne started to talk and, with a voice somewhat choked with emotion, addressed his sons. “My sons, my report to you is sad. The Black Hawk War has ended. The white men are now coming to settle along the banks of this river, taking these lands of the wilderness which have been the happy hunting grounds of the Sacs, the Fox and the Pottawatomies. I trembled today in my listening spot as I heard Chief Waubonsie of the Pottawatomies relate his experiences with the white men. They cannot be trusted, the old chief pointed out, and it is now apparent that we cannot live side by side. There can be no coexistence. Our only move now is to go further west.The other chiefs who had gathered for the council nodded their approval of the westward move, and soon they left to ride home to tell their tribes of these new plans.”

Charlemagne continued, “When the white man comes to the banks of this river and sees this beautiful spot in the valley where the Fox River flows and remember, my sons, this river is named for our Indian neighbors, the Fox tribe up in Wisconsin where the river has its source, here is where the white man will choose to settle. These men upon arrival will first build their homes on the hills overlooking this river. Land will be cleared so that they can plant their crops in the spring. They will bring in livestock to furnish them with food. Then they will build a millwheel on the river to grind their grain, then a bridge. Homes then will be built on the western bank. Stores will open. Industry will come. Schools will be built, and soon church spires will rise up in the community. This is the pattern of settlement of the white man.

Now, I am old, and it will be hard for me to adjust to these changes. I have tried to be a good father to you. I have taught you all the tricks and the cunning of our kind. You are now able to take care of yourselves, and you can adjust your lives to these white men. As for myself, I have only a few more years to live. Tonight I shall leave you and go west to be with my Indian friends. This is as it should be. Your needs for me are no more. I have never given you names, preferring that you be known only as the four sons of Charlemagne, so that there shall always be unity among you for the great tasks ahead. This has been our happy home. It is important that the settlement which arises on the banks of this river will develop a character unique among other communities which will be settled by the white man.

I would like you, my four sons, to be the guardians of this growing settlement, to see that it does become a great community in which men can live, can work, can be educated, can worship and can play.

  • You, my firstborn, are to be the guardian of the civic, the business, the industrial life of this community. Education will become important in the life of this growing community.
  • And you, my second son, are to be the guardian of this educational and cultural expression. Soon after this community has been settled, men will band together to worship,
  • and you, my third son, are to be entrusted with the guardianship of this religious expression.
  • Amid this beautiful setting, it is only natural that recreation activity will flourish, and you, my last-born son, shall be the guardian of this natural recreation expression of man living in these surroundings.

As for me, I shall now leave you to join my Indian friends.” Finishing his talk, Charlemagne then bade farewell to his four sons and walked out of the den into the night and westward. These four sons of Charlemagne are now represented on the Main street bridge, monumental guardians of this community.

Today St. Charles is a truly great community, the Pride of the Fox, located in the Beauty Spot of the Fox River Valley. It is a community where men can live, can work, can be educated, can worship and can play. The guardianship of his four sons is testamentary to the will of Charlemagne.


Qualifications for recipients are:

  • Must be a St. Charles area resident
  • Must be living at the time the Board approves the winner
  • Must have an extended and continuing history of voluntary service to the community in addition to or outside of ordinary business or employment
  • Must qualify under the “Charges of Charlemagne”.  These areas are: Civic, Business, Industrial, Education, Religious Expression, Cultural Expression, and Natural Recreation Expression.
  • The Charlemagne Award is given annually based on qualified nominations

 [Source: St. Charles Heritage Center]