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Monumental discovery offers proof

May 21, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

BOONSBORO - A newly discovered newspaper article from Sept. 20, 1827, proves what Washington County historians have believed all along - that the county is home to the first monument finished in honor of President George Washington.

"We still have the bragging rights to the first one completed," said Al Preston, assistant manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area, which includes Washington Monument State Park.

The word "completed" is crucial to the county's claim.

Work on a larger and more ornate monument in Baltimore began in 1815, but it took 14 years to finish, partly because that monument cost more than twice the original estimate of $100,000.

Baltimore's monument is 178 feet of marble lined with brick and topped by a bronze statue of Washington.

By comparison, Boonsboro's monument was built by a group of town residents who climbed the 1,550-foot mountain peak on July 4, 1827 and built a 15-foot tower.

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"Ours was pure patriotism. No money raised, just dedicated people," said Doug Bast, Boonsboro town historian.

A letter in the July 12, 1827, edition of The Torch Light and Public Advertiser said the residents planned to finish the monument after the summer harvest.

But until this week, nothing was found to prove when it was finished, Bast said.

Marsha Fuller, who is indexing the old newspapers for the Washington County Free Library, uncovered the proof in a one-paragraph notice in the same Hagerstown newspaper from Sept. 20, 1827.

It reads:

"The Washington Monument Building Committee have appointed Saturday the 29th of the present month, for the purpose of celebrating the completion of said Monument, where the public are respectfully invited to attend. It is expected that all the candidates will be present on the occasion."

The clipping will ward off detractors, who in the past had pointed to the documentation gap, Bast said.

"We really had no proof at the time, so this is great," he said.

The monument had to be rebuilt in 1882 and 1935 after it fell into disrepair.

Work on the Washington Monument in the nation's capital started in 1848.

When it was closed during renovations last year, Preston hoped Washington County's monument would draw more visitors.

Attendance was up slightly last year to about 77,000 from about 72,000, but Preston couldn't attributed it to the closure.

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