From the PATC Archives

The following is an historic reprint from the April 1936 Edition of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Bulletin, precursor the PATC's current newsletter, the Potomac Appalachian.

 


THE FIRST MONUMENT TO WASHINGTON

By Harvey S. Bomberger, Boonsboro, MD

On an eminence of the mountain ridge overlooking the town of Boonsboro can be viewed the remains of a monument for which the claim is made that it was the first to be erected to the memory of Washington. The monument was built of native stone lying about its site, comprising an area of several acres, which forms a kind of crown to the mountain fold. Skilled workmen, and in number, were not wanting. All labor was volunteer. The structure was circular grading to a narrower corniced top, and rose from an elevated square base to a height of thirty feet, with a spiral stairway through the center. A marble corner- stone in the base bore the inscription: "Built by Isaac C. Lutz, 1827," and a tablet was set facing the town on which was inscribed, "Erected to the Memory of Washington, July 4, 1827, by the Citizens of Boonsboro."

On the morning of the day of the dedication, the citizens of the community formed themselves in a column headed with the national colors and a fife and drum corps and proceeded to the summit to set apart the structure with becoming ceremony. The Torchlight of Hagerstown, bearing date of July 5, 1827, made a report of the original ceremony which comprises the contemporary record of it. This account is as follows:

"WASHINGTON MONUMENT, NEAR BOONESBORO

"Pursuant to previous arrangements, the citizens of Boonesboro assembled at the public square on the fourth inst., at half past seven o'clock in the morning, to ascend the 'Blue Rocks' for the patriotic purpose of erecting a monument to the memory of him whose name stands at the head of this article. This spot was selected in consequence of the great facility with which the materials were furnished. A little more than the foundation had been laid the day before, which enabled us to proceed without delay to the grand design before us. The men seemed actuated by a spirit of zeal and ardor almost bordering on enthusiasm.

"About 12 o'clock we heard a very appropriate extempore address from the Rev. Mr. Clinghan, a gentleman of the Revolutionary period, whose warm patriotism, animating a constitution rendered infirm by age and bad health, induced him to bear all fatigue and danger to accomplish the purpose of his heart.

"About 1 o'clock we partook of a cold collation, as our object was not to gratify our pampered appetites, consequently no sumptuous arrangements had been made, neither were toasts prepared for the occasion, but we enjoyed more heartfelt satisfaction in partaking of our simple fare than the most costly or highly seasoned dishes would have afforded. Our thoughts and food were both highly spiced with the contemplation of our work, thereby needing no stimulants to excite an artificial appetite. At the conclusion of our labors, about 4 o'clock, the Declaration of Independence was read from one of the steps of the monument, preceded by some prefatory observations, after which several salutes of infantry were fired, when we all returned to town in good order.

"This monument is fifty-four feet in circumference at its base and fifteen feet high (we contemplate raising it thirty feet after the busy season is passed). The wall is composed of huge stones, many weighing upwards of a ton, with the whole of the center filled up with the same material. A flight of steps, commencing at the base and running through the body of the fabric, enables us to ascend to the top, from whence the most beautiful prospect presents itself that the eye can possibly behold. Shepherdstown, Hagerstown, and Cavetown are distinctly seen, with all the fertile fields of Jefferson, Berkeley, and Washington counties, affording a landscape teeming with life and wealth.

"To the summit of this mountain is a rugged path, but the view will afford a rich compensation for the labor. Twelve feet from the base, upon the side fronting Boonesboro, was inserted a white marble slab with the following inscription:

"'Erected in memory of Washington, July 4, 1827, by the citizens of Boonesboro.

"'At the laying of the monument several Revolutionary soldiers ascended and fired three rounds from its top."'

One of these soldiers was probably Anthony Beltzer, a fifer in General Washington's army, who returned to Boonsboro and died there.

The Rev. William Clinghan, D. D., mentioned above, was a retired clergyman of the Episcopal Church living in Boonsboro. His residence is still pointed out and his grave is in the old cemetery of the Reformed Church nearby that of the founder of the town, William Boone.

Later in the year an additional fifteen feet was added, carrying the height to thirty feet, and the monument was finished with a close-fitting coping.

Fifty years after its building the structure, because of its removed situation, had fallen into a state of disrepair. The tablet had dropped from its place and become shattered, the corner-stone had disappeared. This was recently recovered by Mr. E. H. Pitcher of Baltimore, who has it in his possession.

In 1882 it was proposed by La Grange Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Boonsboro that the monument should be restored. To this the community gave its hearty response and a fund was provided by which the work was successfully carried through. At this time an iron-framed observatory was added to the top and a roadway, passable for vehicles, was constructed.

On August 18th the dedication took place in the presence of the governor of the state, William T. Hamilton, who addressed an assemblage of 3,000 people. The speaker of the occasion was Frederick T. Nelson, Esq., of the Frederick bar, whose eloquent oration is still remembered. Twenty years later, either because of a stroke of lightning or faulty construction, a rent appeared in the stonework causing the structure again to become a ruin. There remains standing a considerable portion of it including the interior stairway.

This monument is entitled to the unquestioned distinction of being the first erected to Washington, antedating the Baltimore shaft by more than two years. The latter was not completed until November, 1829.

The situation of the monument affords a scene of unusual range. It has an elevation of 1,500 feet. Below lies an extensive part of the valley of the Potomac. The view to the west is bounded by the North Mountains of the Blue Ridge in the dim distance. Lands surveyed by Washington for Lord Fairfax are in sight of it. Six miles below is seen the Antietam National Cemetery at Sharpsburg where Lee and McClellan were embattled, and one mile away is the monument to General Reno on the South Mountain battlefield. Harpers Ferry, where John Brown made his stand, and Winchester, point of numerous conflicts, and made famous by General Sheridan, are in view. Gettysburg is near. The route of General Braddock's army was directly below it. The tall shaft to James Rumsey at Shepherdstown, on a bluff of the Potomac, where he demonstrated, in 1787, his successful experiments in the application of steam to navigation, is visible. The monument lies on the line of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. Title to one acre, on which it stands, is vested in the Washington County Historical Society.

NOTE: The above article was written in 1932. Since that time the Washington County Historical Society has transferred its title to one acre and the structure to the State of Maryland, the community of Boonsboro contributing the right-of-way for a roadway leading from the county road to the monument. The Civilian Conservation Corps has rebuilt the tower and it is expected the environs will be a State Park or Monument to be maintained by the Department of Forestry.

NOTE 2: The above note was written in April 1936, and since that time, the Washington Monument has been included in Washington Monument State Park, which is 147 acres.