Baltimore’s Washington Monument, the first monument dedicated to America’s first president, George Washington – yes, it was built before the one in Washington, D.C. – turned 200 years old in 2015. The monument was designed by Robert Mills, and is flanked by the Walters Art Museum and the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.
The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy recently undertook a $6.5 million restoration of the monument and its completion was celebrated on the monument’s bicentennial – July 4, 2015.
“We want people to have fun, be in the neighborhood and take advantage of this beautiful urban space,”
- Cathy Rosenbaum, marketing and administrative manager of the Conservancy, said of the celebration.
A Historic Landmark and its Restoration
Baltimore’s Washington Monument was erected in an area known as “Howard’s Woods,” which was rural and not part of downtown Baltimore. Part of the reason the monument was moved to this wooded area (which would become Mount Vernon Place) from its intended location on what is today called Monument Square (Calvert and Lexington Streets) was because people in this more populated downtown area were worried it could topple on to their houses.
The monument’s cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1815, shortly after the end of the War of 1812. Baltimoreans were particularly proud to be erecting this monument to Washington in light of their then-recent role in securing American liberty during the Battle of Baltimore, a turning point in the War of 1812.
The monument was closed in 2010 due to deterioration. As a result, the restoration was essential in order to reopen the structure and make it available again to the public. The Conservancy’s restoration was supported by not only the city and state, but also private sources, including foundations and citizens of Baltimore and beyond.
During the restoration, the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy discovered the monument’s 200-year-old cornerstone filled with old newspapers, coins, an image of Washington and a copy of his presidential farewell speech. The Conservancy preserved those items and replaced them with small 3-D printed casts of the sculpture of George Washington on top of the monument as it exists today, so that future generations have an opportunity to discern how the statue has changed over time. Most importantly, the cornerstone contained a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 3, 1815, documenting that the original builders believed the monument not only the first memorial to Washington but one celebrating American national independence.
Visiting the Monument
The recent improvements to the monument will help keep the iconic structure preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Visitors are able to climb the 227 steps to the monument’s top Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors need timed ticket reservations to make the climb, and only five people are allowed up the steps at a time. Check out the hours, or reserve your climb time through the Conservancy’s website at mvpconservancy.org. The monument is not handicapped accessible.
The Conservancy has created a virtual experience of climbing to the top of the monument that can be viewed on-site and on the organization’s website. This includes panoramic photos of the view from various vantage points as well as additional videos of the restoration process and history. The 2015 time capsule also will help future visitors understand the historical significance of the Washington Monument. As a result of these efforts, the Washington Monument will continue to be an attraction for visitors from around the world.
The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy
The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy was formed in October 2008 by representatives from the community. The goal of the Conservancy is to create an enduring public space that serves as a historical landmark.
The Conservancy, which is chaired by Henry H. Hopkins, initially launched a capital campaign to make necessary improvements to the area. The first project, the restoration of the Washington Monument, began in January 2014, and was completed in time for the monument’s bicentennial on July 4, 2015. Mount Vernon Place’s north and south park squares are next on the restoration agenda.
The Conservancy recognizes that Mount Vernon Place, a National Historic Landmark District, requires a greater level of investment than the City of Baltimore alone can offer. As a result, the group works to ensure that the place remains a vibrant and valuable part of Baltimore’s landscape.