Monument honors first president

June 16, 2003|by JESSICA DAVIS

Editor's Note: Washington County in Maryland was the first and is the oldest of 31 other counties in the United States to be named after the country's first president, George Washington. Each Monday, a story will run about other places and items in the county that hold the title of "the oldest."

BOONSBORO - A salute to America's first president, a long history of dedicated upkeep and the tale of doomed lovers are part of the story of Washington County's oldest monument.

Washington Monument State Park, nestled in the hills of South Mountain, is home to a popular picnic and recreational area. It also is home to the first and oldest monument in the country dedicated to the memory of President George Washington.

The park is included in the South Mountain Recreational Area Complex, along with Greenbrier, South Mountain and Gathland state parks, and South Mountain State Battlefield, said Sgt. Angie Olah of the South Mountain Recreational Area.


Washington Monument was built by the residents of Boonsboro and completed on July 4, 1827. The site was chosen because of the abundance of "blue rocks" located there. Water and granite were not available at the site, so huge stones were selected, cut and then laid in a circular wall, according to the Department of Natural Resources' Washington Monument State Park Web site.

When construction was completed, almost 500 Boonsboro residents gathered in the town square and marched to the music of a fife and drum corps two miles up the mountain to the monument, according to the Web site.

The celebration ended with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and a three-round salute fired from the top of the tower by three Revolutionary War veterans, the Web site says.

Originally, the height of the tower was 15 feet but it rose to 30 feet after more construction in the fall of that year, according to the Web site.

The monument was supposed to resemble the muzzle of a cannon, said Al Preston, director of activities for Washington Monument.

A marble tablet on the side of the tower is inscribed with the date of completion. A spiral stone staircase is cut inside the tower, allowing visitors who climb to the top a clear view of the surrounding Cumberland Valley area.

During the Civil War, the monument was used as a signal tower, Preston said. In the following years, it became a popular place for meetings, but during that time a combination of vandalism and weather eroded much of the tower, according to the Web site.

In 1882, the Odd Fellows Lodge of Boonsboro led an effort to restore the monument and add a canopy and a roadway that allowed visitors easier access to the monument, according to the site.

Ten years later, Washington Monument again fell to ruin because of a crack in the wall. In 1920, the site was purchased by the Washington County Historical Society and in 1934, the State of Maryland obtained the deed to the land for use as a state park, according to the DNR site.

The Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the monument in its present form in the 1930s. Corps workers set in place the original cornerstone and a copy of the dedication tablet. Since that time, the park's size has increased from 40 to 108 acres, according to the Web site.

Like most historical sites, Washington Monument has its own ghost story, according to, the Web site of the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association. Legend has it that underneath the massive pile of rocks on the hill near the monument lies a maze of hidden caves. During the Civil War, a soldier fell in love with a landowner's daughter, who begged him to run away from the war and hide with her.

According to the legend, the couple hid in the caves but were trapped when a rock slide covered the exit. They were entombed in the mountain and people claim that you still can hear cries of help from the monument that "ring out over the valley," according to the Web site.

Today, the park has a visitors center, museum and picnic area.

A total of 69,265 people visited the park in 2002, according to Helene Tenner, chief of public involvement for the Department of Natural Resources. From January to May of this year, 16,898 people have been to the park for day use and 848 campers have visited the park, according to information from the South Mountain Recreational Area.

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