The History of the First Washington Monument

The Washington Monument.

On July 4, 1827, residents of Boonsboro, Maryland, built the majority of the Washington Monument in just one day. (Image: via Wikipedia)

The Washington Monument is a reminder of the power of a small community to collectively honor a great leader and of the spontaneous patriotism that a national hero can generate.

The first memorial dedicated to the first President of the United States, George Washington, was built about 20 years before the more famous Washington Monument in the National Mall in Washington D.C. This monument, located in Boonsboro, Maryland, has a fascinating and tumultuous history that reflects the significance of the leader it honors. 

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George Washington’s contribution to the monument

George Washington was an instrumental leader in the formation of the United States of America. He united the 13 original states to defeat Britain’s overwhelming military force and served as the first president of the United States. His exemplary leadership made him a national hero whose example future presidents would have to live up to. 

On July 4, 1827, the 500 residents of Boonsboro, Maryland, met in the town square and marched 2 kilometers up to the peak of South Mountain. William Bell, a resident of Boonsboro, wrote in the Torchlight that the purpose of this patriotic march was to build a monument in remembrance of George Washington. 

The first Washington Monument was a basic structure resembling a small milk jug made from pebbles from the Southern Mountain area. It was inscribed with the words “Erected in Memory of Washington, July 4, 1827, by the citizens of Boonsboro,. A white marble monument was set 12 feet from the tower’s base.

A marker in the Washington Monument State Park, Boonsboro, Maryland.
A marker in the Washington Monument State Park, Boonsboro, Maryland. (Image: via Wikipedia)

Deterioration of the monument 

Unfortunately, the original Washington Monument didn’t last nearly as long as its creators had hoped. The tower had a lack of foundation and was only 15 feet tall. As a result, when the Civil War began in April 1861, only a third of the original tower was still intact. 

Despite its deterioration, the monument played a minor role during the war, as mentioned in the biography of Confederate Edward Porter Alexander. 

The Maryland Natural Resources Division reports that the monument underwent its first restoration operation in 1882. The Autonomous Order of Noble Companions remodeled the memorial, which was recommitted in front of 5,000 people with a whitewashed exterior and a steel observation deck. 

When lightning struck the monument

By December 1906, the monument was once again in ruins. The Baltimore Sun reported that the tower had been hit by lightning several years earlier, which caused half of the monument to fall. There was also a local urban legend about a parent who blew up the monument where his daughters met a potential suitor. 

Then in May 1916, vandals blew up a big part of the tower, according to the Herald-Mall, another Maryland newspaper.

The Washington Monument information sign.
The Washington Monument information sign. (Image: via Wikipedia)

Conservation of the original Washington Monument

The Marylanders of 1872’s independence and the people who built the Washington Monument are both reflected in the monument. But budgetary issues and a lack of support from beyond Boonsboro stalled progress. 

In August 1922, the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS) bought the monument and surrounding land. On July 4, 1927, the tower turned a century old, and two locals from Boonsboro, Maryland, laid a garland and a flag near the almost-shapeless-heap-of-brickwork atop South Peak. 

In 1934, Boonsboro’s mayor and WCHS leader, H.S. Bomberger, led the community in purchasing 10 acres of land for the monument’s grounds. Maryland eventually joined the WCHS’s purchase with the neighboring land they had bought to create a state park — restoring the monument’s 19th-century design.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Fort Frederick was one of the 30 CCC camps in Maryland, and its first order of business was to restore the Boonsboro memorial. The CCC members rebuilt the tower and constructed a caretaker’s house, a nature reserve, and a tourist shelter. The restoration project was completed in 1936 and required 670 tons of sand and thousands of barrels of cement. 

Influence of the first Washington Monument

Locals gathered at the base of South Mountain in 2017 for a ceremony that recreated the route taken by Boonsboro residents hundreds of years before. Revolutionary War reenactors dressed in period garb-fired salutes, followed by musical accompaniment.

The Washington Monument is a reminder of the power of a small community to collectively honor a great leader and of the spontaneous patriotism that a national hero can generate. It also reflects the gratitude and dignity in one’s heritage that William Bell hoped it would evoke in the people of Maryland.

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