Solomon Willard, 1825–1843National Historic Landmark
The hill on which Bunker Hill Monument stands is commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as Bunker Hill. This error began about midnight on June 16, 1775, when 1,000 Revolutionary troops under Colonel Prescott’s command arrived from Cambridge at what they thought to be Bunker Hill and began digging fortifications. Not until dawn could they see their position clearly. Thus, the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill, named for the homestead of Ebenezer Breed, who kept a pair of antelope in his yard.
The initial monument was erected by the King Solomon’s Lodge of Charlestown in 1794 in the form of a Tuscan pillar in James Russell’s pasture. A desire to protect and memorialize the site further led to the formation in 1823 of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, which raised money and purchased the land for the monument. The Marquis de Lafayette journeyed from France to lay the cornerstone in 1825, and in 1843 the dedication ceremony took place with U.S. Senator Daniel Webster as orator. A model of the original 1794 monument is displayed inside the obelisk.
Solomon Willard, the monument’s designer, was a diversely talented man highly regarded by his contemporaries. He began as a carpenter, then carved figureheads for ships. From there he went into sculpture, then architecture, followed by work as a scientist, quarry master, and scientific agriculturist. In Washington, D.C., he assisted Charles Bulfinch in his work on the Capitol. Besides designing the Bunker Hill Monument, Willard bought a quarry in Quincy to supply the granite. A special tramway was built to move the slabs from Quincy to Charlestown, a significant engineering achievement for the time. The monument was built by Gridley Bryant, father of architect Gridley J. Fox Bryant.
Today the 220-foot obelisk and the nearby 1881 statue of Colonel William Prescott are the central focus of the square laid out in 1839. Beginning in the 1840s, fine brick row houses for prominent Charlestown citizens were constructed on the four sides of the square park.
Image: © Bruce Martin. All other rights reserved