Washington Monuments: Honoring the Father of This Country

On Dec. 14, 1799, George Washington passed away, leaving several states scrambling to build a monument to honor the nation’s first president.
Washington Monuments: Honoring the Father of This Country
The Washington Monument as seen from across the Tidal Basin. (Courtesy of Lynn Topel)
As you drive through the downtown area of the nation’s capital, the first marker you will probably see is the pencil-shaped monument erected in honor of the country’s first president, George Washington. It is visible whether you are visiting one of the Smithsonian museums or paying homage to another famous president, Abraham Lincoln, at his stately memorial to the west. Completed in 1884, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world at the time it was built.
However, there are other monuments dedicated to Washington that may not be as well-known as the one in D.C. With two in Maryland, one in Virginia, and another in Pennsylvania, they’re worth a look (and a side trip) to take in these testaments to one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

The One That Was Completed First

Built on July 4, 1827 and predating the downtown obelisk by 57 years, the Washington Monument in western Maryland was the first to be completed in honor of the president.
Located in western Maryland, this monument was completed in one day. (Courtesy of Lynn Topel)
Located in western Maryland, this monument was completed in one day. (Courtesy of Lynn Topel)
The monument is located on top of South Mountain. Built by roughly 500 townspeople of Boonsboro, it is a “rugged structure” built in one day. When it was first built, it was only 15 feet high on a circular base with a 54-foot diameter, and has been described as stocky and shaped like a milk bottle, although it was meant to look like a Revolutionary War cannon. But it is a monument that came from the hearts and hands of the rural folks who simply wanted to honor their president.
Newspaper accounts reported that the people had gathered at 7 in the morning and trekked up the hill accompanied by drums and fifes, and at its completion at 4 p.m., the Declaration of Independence was read and “several salutes of infantry were fired” by Revolutionary War veterans as an appropriate conclusion to a full day’s work. 
During the Civil War, the monument was used as a signal station for the Union Army and the mountain was the site of the first battle to be fought in the state. Though not as impressively tall as the other monument to the south, its location atop South Mountain allows unobstructed views of the Maryland countryside. It is also an ideal spot for birdwatching, and it intersects with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the only Civil War battlefield site to do so.
It has been restored several times since that Independence Day in 1827, and, after adding to its height, the structure now stands at 40 feet tall—a true grassroots effort that overtook the project timeline for another planned monument in another Maryland city, Baltimore.

The One That Was Planned First

Ten years after Washington’s death, Baltimore city residents started raising funds in order to build a monument to honor the late president, making it “the earliest commemorative structure planned.” In 1814, American architect Robert Mills, the same person to draw up the designs for the one at the National Mall, was commissioned to do the drawings for the columns and large square base, which now houses the gallery.
Atop a Doric column sits the equestrian statue, designed by Italian sculptor Enrico Causici, which depicts Washington resigning from his commission in the army. This 14-foot marble statue was completed in 1829, with materials locally sourced from three Baltimore quarries.
Baltimore's Washington Monument, circa 1890. (Public Domain)
Baltimore's Washington Monument, circa 1890. (Public Domain)
All in all, this monument stands nearly as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and it is a 227-step climb up to the balcony. It is located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, sitting in a park surrounded by the renowned Walters Art Museum on the southwest corner; the Peabody Institute on the southeast; and the historic Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, built on the site where Francis Scott Key died, on the northeast side. It is a little sanctuary of history and the arts in this pocket of Charm City.

The One in Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly took a little longer to get the plans for a Washington Monument off the planning table and on to its execution. After much talk, debate, and fundraising, the assembly members were finally able to lay the cornerstone on Feb. 22, 1850, more than 50 years after Washington’s death.
The Virginia Washington Monument, which is on the National Historic Register, is located in Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia. (Morgan Riley/<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Virginia_Washington_Monument_2011.JPG" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC BY-3.0</a>)
The Virginia Washington Monument, which is on the National Historic Register, is located in Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia. (Morgan Riley/CC BY-3.0)
Thomas Crawford’s design was chosen from among 40 entries across 12 states. He “depicted a youthful, action-hero Washington” on what writer Nathaniel Hawthorne described as “an uneasy steed.” The monument stands 60 feet tall and includes an 86-foot-diameter base. At the top of a granite pedestal is the bronze sculpture of Washington astride his horse with its front legs rearing up. The sculpture was cast in Munich, Germany, and transported by a brig that arrived at Richmond’s docks on Nov. 2, 1857. 
From the docks came the challenge of moving the heavy statue uphill to Capitol Square. Veterans from the Continental Army wished to have the honor of doing so but the council members did not dare leave an expensive (and bulky) work of art in their hands. It was pulled by a team of horses over the rocky roads, but there was not enough horsepower to do the job. The Richmond Daily Dispatch reported that by “one patriotic impulse, the populace seized the ropes and began to draw the vehicle and its load” up the street. At the end, they counted some 400 or 500 who joined in the spontaneous effort to get the equestrian statue to its destination.
Next, the challenge was getting the 21-foot statue onto its pedestal. After waiting for the construction of a derrick suited for lifting the heavy statue, engineer Capt. Charles Dimmock and his crew were finally able to do so on Jan. 21, 1858. A tarp was placed over the statue for its unveiling a month later during the late president’s birthday on Feb. 22.

The One in Pennsylvania

Not to be outdone, the City of Brotherly Love also sought to have some form of tribute to the first president. The monument, commissioned by the Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, a group “founded to commemorate those who had fought together during the War of Independence,” started their fundraising efforts as early as Independence Day 1810, but it was not till 1881 that they were able to accumulate enough funds to start the process. A contract was signed with sculptor Rudolph Siemering of Berlin, Germany. The professor made sure to get accurate facial measurements and dress details, so he used a copy of a mask made of Washington’s face while still alive and sought photographs and prints.
Philadelphia's Washington Monument stands at Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Public Domain)
Philadelphia's Washington Monument stands at Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Public Domain)
Cast in bronze, Washington is depicted as the commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War. Located at the highest level of the monument, Washington, dressed in military uniform and astride his equine companion, is depicted as a hero. At the middle section are two allegorical figures of America: “Liberty” and “Call to Arms.” The bottom part showcases the flora and fauna of the United States.
The monument was unveiled at its original location at the entrance to Fairmount Park on Green Street by President William McKinley on May 5, 1897. In 1928, it was moved to its present location on Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Each monument, unique in its designs and stories, stands tall as sincere testaments to the many contributions of the Father of Our Country from America’s grateful citizens.
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Lynn Topel is a freelance writer and editor based in Maryland. When not busy homeschooling her sons, she enjoys reading, traveling, and trying out new places to eat.
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