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Closure of D.C. landmark gives Boonsboro monumental opportunity

January 12, 1998

Closure of D.C. landmark gives Boonsboro

monumental opportunity

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - With the Washington Monument in the nation's capital closed through mid-May for renovations, local park officials hope Washington County's monument will draw a few more visitors.

Gerry Gaumer, the deputy site manager for the National Mall, said park rangers often talk to tourists about other monuments to George Washington, but said he didn't expect too many tourists to get their monument fix at South Mountain.

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"Most people are generally not going to take a special trip up to Hagerstown," he said.

All the same, Al Preston, assistant manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area, which includes Washington Monument State Park, said he hopes to see a few more visitors now that the 555-foot D.C. landmark is closed. About 75,000 people visit the park every year, compared to about 1 million a year who visit the monument in Washington, D.C.

Preston said he didn't plan to hand out flyers at the base of the national monument as a promotional stunt.

People often call park offices and ask for directions to the Washington Monument, and then ask if it has a Metro stop, he said.

"We tell them they want the other Washington Monument," he said.

Washington County's 34-foot Washington Monument was built on top of South Mountain by 500 residents of Boonsboro on July 4, 1827.

Volunteers originally built the monument without mortar, and using stone found on the site. The monument had to be rebuilt in 1882 and 1935 after it fell into disrepair. The 1930s repair was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and included mortar.

Terry McGee, chief county engineer and outgoing president of the Friends of the Washington Monument, said people can avoid the commercialized hustle and bustle of the Mall while enjoying a great view and a piece of history by checking out the South Mountain monument.

On a clear day, the people at the South Mountain monument can see parts of four states - Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. During the Civil War, both sides used the monument as a lookout post and to communicate with flags, Preston said.

Preston said the majority of the park's visitors are people getting away for the weekend or picnicking.

McGee said the Friends of the Washington Monument group is considering increasing the number of interpretive signs on the path leading up to the monument. The group also is trying to raise money for playground equipment at the park.

The museum at the park fell into disuse, especially after it was burglarized a few years ago, Preston and McGee said. Preston said the museum eventually could be reopened on a regular basis with more funding and artifacts.

Gaumer said the national monument in Washington cost $1,187,710 in 1880 dollars. It was started in 1848, completed in 1884 and fully opened to the public in 1888. The refurbishing job will cost $9.4 million, and will result in the monument being closed until mid-May and covered in scaffolding from this summer until the year 2000.

The 178-foot Washington Monument in Baltimore, which has the claim to fame of being the first such monument started, but not the first finished, cost $200,000. Work on that monument started in 1815 and was completed in 1829.

Washington Monument State Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset.

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