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Story of the Bunker Hill Monument, Part 2

A closer look at the famous marker in the middle of Charlestown.

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about the history of Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. Click here to read part 1.

Breaking ground for the Granite Railway in 1826 made it possible to get the stone intended for the monument to Charlestown. This was a massive undertaking. Stones weighing several tons were hoisted at the quarry onto railroad cars, which then hauled the massive granite stones from the quarry to the Neponset River. The granite was then loaded onto schooners to be ferried to Charlestown, where, at Deven’s wharf, the stone was transferred, again, to ox-driven carts and trekked to Breed’s Hill. No wonder the monument took 18 years to build.

To lift the enormous blocks of granite, Willard, with the help of a local seaman Almoran Holmes, deigned a gigantic hoist, or derrick, with a movable boom. The Holmes Hoisting Apparatus had a "wing span" of 50 feet. It could lift up to 20 tons when joined with the power of six horses.

By 1829 the monument had reached a height of 37 feet. Then the money ran out and all workers, even Willard, were laid off. Work began again in 1834 and, before money ran out again, the obelisk reached 85 feet.

Between 1834 and 1841, to raise money for the stalled project, the Bunker Hill Monument Association sold off 10 of the 15 acres it held, surrounding Breed’s Hill. For the final money needed, Sarah Joseph Buell Hale, editor of "Ladies' Magazine," helped organize what was perhaps the first all-women fundraiser.  With the help of handiwork donated by women from all over the country, an additional $30,000 was raised. The monument could now be completed.

According to "Stories in Stone," the final stone on the monument was placed at 6 a.m. on July 23, 1842. The following June 17, with 110 Revolutionary War veterans present, there was the formal dedication.

  • Where is it? Monument Square
  • When was it built? between 1825 and 1843
  • Who built it? It was designed by Solomon Willard, architect
  • What was it built for? As a permanent reminder of the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • How was it built?  Of granite. In the first course alone there are forty-four blocks of stone, of five tons' weight. The monument is 221 feet high, with 294 stone steps to the top. There are no elevators but an incredible view. Total cost of the obelisk was about $100,000.00
  • What are the future plans for the structure? The monument site reopened on April 2, 2007, after completion of a $3.7 million renovation that included repairs, handicap accessibility improvements, and new lighting for the Bunker Hill Monument. The new lights were switched on for the first time on April 20, 2007

Information for this article was compiled from various research materials, including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunker_Hill_Monument; http://thomascranelibrary.org/legacy/obelisk/obelisk.htm; http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art34711.asp; "Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology" by David B. Williams and "Now We Are Enemies" by Thomas J. Fleming.

chris wolff February 22, 2013 at 04:57 PM
THANK YOU FOR YOUR HISTORICAL ARTICLES. I REALLY ENJOY THEM AND ALWAYS SAVE AND PRINT OUT. I HAVE A PROBLEM--CANNOT SEEM TO GET PRINT LARGE FROM YOUR SITE. CAN YOU HELP ME.
Joseph February 22, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Thanks Helen. Keep them coming.
ANN HANNAN February 22, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Wow. Just learned that 'the powers-that-be have decided to discontinue the column At This Address. This is regrettable. It's readership, myself included, read the PATCH primary for the RICH content provided by Ms. O'Neil in her historical pieces about Charelstown. She's also a great writer. WRONG MOVE PATCH!!!
Joseph February 22, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Are you serious? Why? What a stupid decision.
Mary Brock February 23, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Helen, You are a wonderful writer/storyteller/historian. Mary
TheMaskedTruthsayer February 23, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Helen, your articles have been scholarly, well-written, informative and very entertaining. You will be missed.
Larry Fine February 23, 2013 at 03:04 AM
Dear Patch: I resign please remove me from your email list ASAP!
Katy Miles February 23, 2013 at 05:41 PM
I will truly miss your patch articles. I have gained so much information. My sense of appreciation of the places in Charlestown has been because of your wonderful descriptions. "At this address". Will be missed.
Velvet Jones February 23, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Good riddance !
Matthew February 24, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Hey, look everyone! It's the mouth from Newton...or somewhere. Eh..she/he/it probably doesn't even live near Boston.
Mary Kay Donovan February 26, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Not having these historical stories of the town on the Patch is so very sad. Once upon a time, we had a newspaper, "The Charlestown Patriot" that was filled from front to back with news of the town and the people, everything was there and then some. Then the paper took on the name of "The Charlestown Bridge". At first, it was pretty much the same but little by little there was less news about the town and more about downtown Boston and what other towns were doing. When "The Patch" started, I thought, "this is great"! News about the town. But now, this part of "The Patch" will no longer be available. This is what new and longtime resident's want to read.
Mary Kay Donovan February 26, 2013 at 06:28 PM
These stories are not in every week! But such a breath of fresh air from the police news and the politics of Boston and the country. We can get that from other sources. Helen has done a marvelous job capturing people's attention to some of the most outstanding architecture and history in the country. I thought "The Charlestown Patch" was "our" patch. Interesting and wonderful, and eye opening stories on safety, etc. What will it be become now? The Charlestown Bridge online?? Shame on the powers that be.
Ann Hannan February 27, 2013 at 05:40 PM
Couldn't agree more than with Mary Kay's comments. Such a loss!
TheMaskedTruthsayer February 27, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Patriot? Newspaper? Uh huh.
Mary Kay Donovan February 27, 2013 at 11:18 PM
Hi Plenty - Was not "The Charlestown Patriot" a weekly paper that was available all over town? And did it not give the community news from new babies to obits and everything in between? Thanks to the hard work of Jim & Gloria Conway, we had a paper. Let's not forget you could even place a prayer request in it. Now that's a paper for the people.

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