McIntire's life as told in all available sources has the flavor of an Horatio Alger story: smalltown boy makes good in the big city. Extant stories also put much stress on his almost mythological good character. One story he liked to tell of himself recounts an interaction with Yankee troups in 1864 when he was four years old:
"The troops came to the McIntire home, located on High Street, and asked if there were any food or firearms in the house. The family denied they had anything, but young Paul stated that there were some hams in the attic. Eventually the troops left without disturbing the family's cache, but Paul was brought to his mother for discipline. Paul protested that he had been taught to tell the truth; his mother instructed him that, when dealing with a Yankee, the truth must be told with discretion." (Wilkerson and Shenkir, 2)
That he would retell this story in later years probably reflects on his personal experience with Yankees while doing business in the north.
At the age of 19, and after just one year as a student of the University of Virginia, McIntire set off to make his fortune in Chicago. He began as a hardworking coffee salesman and eventually earned enough to purchase a seat on the Chicago Stock Exchange. He remained in Chicago until 1901, when he moved to New York, so he must have been witness to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. This event had extensive cultural repercussions, especially in the field of the arts, so if it did not influence him directly, it would have had to have done so at least indirectly through the culture of the time. The Chicago World's Fair (discussed more thoroughly in the Historical Context section) showcased the ability of the bests artisans and architects in the United States. The Fair itself was essentially an idealized conception of a city--with beautiful wide boulevards and Beaux-Art buildings. Donations of sculpture and city parks (such as McIntire's) were well-recognized ways the rich could assist in the achievement of this civic ideal, while at the same time earning a reputation for themselves as civic men of virtue.
McIntire was married a total of 3 times, and divorced once. His third wife survived him, and his second died before him. He had his only child with his first wife Edith Clark, in 1901. Edith was of the Clark family, though not a direct descendent of William himself. McIntire named their daughter Charlotte Virginia McIntire, unmistakeably reflecting his love of his hometown. Charlotte seems to have spent the balance of her life in a sanatarium, but she was able to give the address at the dedication ceremony for the Lewis and Clark statue. There is very little data on her life beyond that, which is not surprising, considering that her mental instability was probably something of an embarrassment to the family.
Details of McIntire's life during the periods not spent in Charlottesville are cloudy, so it is unclear why he and Edith got a divorce, but when he moved back to Charlottesville in 1918, he was once again an eligible bachelor and met with the public scrutiny afforded to a celebrity. His second wife, Anna Dearing Rhodes, was a young Charlottesville schoolteacher. Their marriage was a big disappointment to many young women and their mothers.
McIntire also seemed cognizant of his duty as a wealthy businessman to give back to the community. This was the Guilded Age, after all, and the gap between the rich and poor was widening. To ease their consciences, and probably also out of a desire to improve society and educate the populace, people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller made generous contributions of libraries, museums, parks, and other civic improvements. (McIntire was probably at least familiar with Andrew Carnegie's famous book, "The Gospel of Wealth", which espoused these ideas.) Indeed, the educational aspect of these contributions are important. Since as it is at least publicly believed, we are all created equal, these men felt that part of their mission was to help to elevate the consciousness of the general public. This was also a time of massive immigration, so many Americans felt that the immigrants had to be taught pride in American history.
As the Clark family is from Albemarle county, McIntire decided that statues to Lewis and Clark and to George Rogers Clark were only fitting. He almost funded one for Thomas Jefferson, but decided that Lewis and Clark were underrecognized. In addition to the George Rogers Clark statue and Lewis and Clark statue, McIntire also paid for and commissioned a statue of Robert E. Lee, which still stands in downtown Charlottesville. It has often been praised as the best equestrian statue in the United States, and this is perhaps partly due to McIntire's involvement. Reportedly, McIntire took Keck, the sculptor, out to a nearby stable so that Keck could examine horses for a more detailed realism in the statue.
The subjects McIntire chose to fund also reflected a kind of regionalism that was not uncommmon in this era. In the post Civil War era, Southerners struggled to regain some semblence of dignity. It is worth noting that it is very rare in history when the vanquished are allowed to commemorate their war heroes. (E.g. celebratory Nazi monuments would be unthinkable.) We see this curious Southern tendency to an even greater extent in the so-called "Monument Avenue" in Richmond, Virginia.
McIntire's contributions were mostly, but not all, devoted to the Albemarle county area. Shortly after World War I, for example, he heard of the plight of orphaned French children, and decided to donate the money to rebuild an orphanage. In special recognition of his contributions, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor by French government in 1929.
McIntire receiving the French Legion of Honor from Ambassador Claudel
Copyright 1988, McIntire School of Commerce Foundation
McIntire died in New York City in 1952, reportedly disillusioned with the way the people of Charlottesville had taken his contributions for granted. Efforts were made to express gratitude, including a city-wide declared "McIntire day" on his birthday in 1952, but McIntire was too sickly to make it down to Charlottesville for the event.
Today, Charlottesville bears the stamp of his contributions. McIntire High School (now The Covenant School) still stands, and people of all ages still enjoy playing in McIntire Park. And of course, the statues themselves are still around. They have become monuments not only to their subjects, but to a generation of philanthropists, and to the ideals of McIntire himself.