The Bunker Hill monument is well known throughout the state and nationally. The architect of this historic 221-foot-tall icon was Solomon Willard, originally from Petersham.
Willard was born and raised in Petersham, where he attended schools, according to Christine Mandel of the Petersham Historical Society. Willard’s birthplace was once on the southeast corner of North Main Street and Highway 101 and was demolished in 1890, when the current stone house was built, she continued. This house was one of the houses occupied by Daniel Shays’ men on the night of February 3, 1787 during the Shays rebellion. âSolomon would have been about 4 years old at the time. Her older brother Samuel has written about the experience over the past few years, âshe said.
Willard left home for Boston at age 21, where his first job was to install pipes for the construction of docks at 30 cents a day, according to a biography written by JB Howe in the 1880s and published in “Sketches of Petersham Natives. and Adopted Citizens âin 1915. by the Petersham Historical Society.
Willard studied drawing and connected with the (Boston) Athenaeum, attending lectures on anatomy, geology and chemistry, Willard studied and practiced architecture and design, built a vast staircase in Spiral Staircase, a model of the Capitol in Washington, becoming a professor of architecture, drawing and design, the biography continued.
Willard was appointed superintendent and architect of the monument by the Bunker Hill Monument Association, according to Bill Parrow, Park Guide National Parks, Boston. Willard was initially assisted by Loammi Baldwin and Gridley Bryant.
The Bunker Hill Monument Association, which included members as well-known as Daniel Webster, decided to build the monument in the 1820s. âThey wanted to commemorate the soldiers who served at Bunker Hill, the men who fought in battle, as well than the battle itself, âParrow said.
The association held a design competition for the proposed monument, originally asking for column designs for the competition. âDuring this competition, they also received several models of obelisks and the committee chose instead to make the monument an obelisk,â Parrow said.
The winner of the competition was Horatio Greenough. âIt was up to Solomon Willard to turn Greenough’s design into an obelisk that could actually be built,â Parrow said.
Construction on the monument began in 1827 and was completed in 1843. âThe building has been shut down three times for a long time due to lack of money,â Parrow said. âThey underestimated the cost, because a project like this had never been done beforeâ¦ There was nothing like the Bunker Hill monument that was built at that time. It was a huge bet. They had nothing to do, âParrow continued. The total cost of the project was $ 120,000, all funded by donations, which would be around $ 3 million today, Parrow said.
Solomon Willard stayed on the project from start to finish, Parrow continued, adding that he did not receive any salary from the project, although he was paid for the expenses. âWillard kept track of every penny and every expense. It is fair to say that the monument would not have been built without Solomon Willard.
Willard, known today as the father of the granite industry, was also instrumental in choosing the granite for Quincy’s quarry. To transport the granite, a railway was built from the quarry to the Neponset River at Quincy, Parrow said. This railway was built by Gridley Bryant and was the first built in the United States.
Once the granite reached the Neponset River, it was floated along the coast to Charlestown. Horse-drawn carts were used to transport the granite from there to the construction site, he continued.
Eventually, horse-drawn carts were used to bring the granite from Quincy because it was cheaper than the multiple steps required to travel down the Neponset River, Parrow said.
Initially, the monument was built using a horse and pulley system. However, by the time the last 100 feet or so were built, steam engines had been invented, so the technology was put to use, Parrow continued.
A dedication ceremony for the completed monument was held on June 17, 1843. President John Tyler attended. âThe locals built it, but it was a national event,â Parrow said.
The Bunker Hill Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the Battle of Bunker Hill and also includes a small section on how the monument itself was built. The museum also contains cannonballs and weapons from the battle.
At one time there were two Revolutionary War era cannons, neither used at Bunker Hill, mounted inside the observatory, atop the Bunker monument Hill. These guns were used by George Washington’s army and shortly after the war they were named Adams and Hancock. Adams currently resides at the lodge next to the Bunker Hill monument while Hancock can be seen at Minuteman National Park in Concord.
The Bunker Hill Monument has 294 steps and no elevator. The monument was closed due to COVID-19. It is scheduled to reopen in mid-July. More information on the Bunker Hill monument is available at https://www.nps.gov/bost/planyourvisit/bhm.htm
Views of the monument can also be viewed live online at https://www.nps.gov/bost/learn/views-of-the-revolution-360-monument-webcams.htm
Carla Charter is a freelance writer for Phillipston. His writings focus on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin region.