Careful Construction of Pilgrim Monument Commemorates First Landing

Located in Provincetown, Mass. the memorial commemorates the stopover landing of the pilgrims in the harbor of what now is the tiny coastal town.

📅   Wed November 22, 2017 - National Edition
Joe Trinacria


President William H. Taft was on hand to personally help dedicate the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910. Since that date, approximately 10 million people have climbed its 116 steps and 60 ramps to experience a breathtaking 360-degree view of Cape Cod.
President William H. Taft was on hand to personally help dedicate the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910. Since that date, approximately 10 million people have climbed its 116 steps and 60 ramps to experience a breathtaking 360-degree view of Cape Cod.

Built of solid granite and casting a rather large shadow at 252 ft. tall, Cape Cod's Pilgrim Monument stands as the largest single structure crafted from the igneous rock in this country. Located in Provincetown, Mass. the memorial commemorates the stopover landing of the pilgrims in the harbor of what now is the tiny coastal town. It was here in 1620 where the New World's first settlers drew up and signed the Mayflower Compact, establishing the initial governmental structure of the Plymouth Colony, after setting down the anchor of their famous ship of the same name.

The pilgrims spent five weeks investigating the tip of Cape Cod before moving on to Plymouth, and it took five years of planning before President Teddy Roosevelt laid the Pilgrim Monument's cornerstone on High Pole Hill in 1907. Provincetown deeded the land to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, which then raised $92,000 for construction. The tower, designed by prominent New England architect Willard T. Sears, was modeled after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy. An obelisk was considered, however, town authorities ultimately decided against that form due to its similarity to the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, to and D.C.'s Washington Monument.

After opening the bidding in March of 1908, the lowest proposal for building the monument atop its already prepared foundation was $73, 865. The association had certain requirements for the structure and wouldn't settle for anything less. All of the granite had to come from a specific quarry in Stonington, Maine. Only fresh water was permitted for use in mortar and cement work. The developers had until December 31, 1909 to complete the project or risk a fine of $5 for each day they missed the mark.

Construction on the tower ended up continuing through 1910, when its interior system of steps and ramps were added – although the monument's last brick was set in 1909, falling within the association's strict deadline. Not a single person who worked on the project was injured during the course of its completion. President William H. Taft was on hand to personally help dedicate the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910. Since that date, approximately 10 million people have climbed its 116 steps and 60 ramps to experience a breathtaking 360-degree view of Cape Cod.

Renovations to the structure in recent years have made the monument's interior cleaner and brighter, as well as more safe, according to John McDonaugh, executive director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

“It sounds like an old-fashioned term now, but the restoration brought space-age technology to a 100-year-old structure,” McDonaugh said. After properly reinforcing the building to stave off further erosion, other upgrades included the addition of safety grates and sturdy handrails.

“Granite is virtually indestructible, but embedded steel technology, which was used on the inside when the monument was originally constructed, was in its early genesis,” said John Bologna, CEO of Coastal Engineering Co., a Cape Cod firm that provides structural engineering consulting and worked on the renovation. “What was there before is what you see now, but with modern products to improve waterproofing. We followed the U.S. Department of the Interior's program for restoration of historic structures, so there was no distracting from that.”

A neat feature of the Pilgrim Monument that keeps visitors' heads on a swivel are the many interior stones dedicated by individual cities, towns and organizations located all across the United States. In accordance with the spirit of the memorial, these stones represent the municipalities and entities that grew out of the ideals first laid forth in the Mayflower Compact.

“The monument is a big deal for the Cape and the country, and as we begin to plan for 2020 – the 400th¬†anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing — people will become even more aware of its significance,” McDonaugh said.