The Story Behind Baltimore’s Washington Monument
Discover the historical landmark that serves as the centerpiece for Mount Vernon, Baltimore’s arts and culture hub.
No, not that Washington Monument. This one is all Baltimore, and arguably the first major architectural monument to honor George Washington. The structure has weathered nearly 200 years’ worth of history, celebrations and events, and continues to stand tall as the epicenter of Mount Vernon. It’s a piece of local history that remains as solid and steadfast as the foundation on which it was built.
History of the Washington Monument
The Making of the Monument
The Washington Monument was designed in 1815 by American architect Robert Mills, who would later go on to design D.C.’s Washington Monument. Construction began that same year and was completed by 1829. The monument, a colossal landmark column, stands at 178 feet and 8 inches with 227 steps inside that lead to the structure’s balcony. Climb to the top and you’ll get a priceless panoramic view of Charm City.
While it’s impressive by today’s standards, the monument was an engineering marvel in its day as it was erected without modern construction equipment. At its inception, it was so tall that residents feared it would topple over onto their houses!
Before it was even finished, Baltimoreans, tourists and influential figures flocked to the Washington Monument to observe its construction and pay their respects to the first president of the United States. James Monroe visited the Monument in 1817, and John Quincy Adams became an active contributor to the project following his presidential visit in 1827.
The Monument was closed to the public in 2010, and in 2014 the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy began a year-long restoration project. That year, workers found the original 1815 cornerstone and a secret time capsule from 1915 buried beneath the Monument. Conservators from the Walters Art Museum opened the compartments to find a copy of the Declaration of Independence, old newspapers and vintage coins, among other amazing artifacts. You can now find these long-hidden treasures at the Maryland Center for History and Culture, just two blocks away from their previous resting place!
Baltimore’s history has shaped America’s. Check out more of Charm City’s museums and monuments to learn how.
Designed with Maryland in Mind
Mills originally had grandiose plans for the Washington Monument, but safety and financial concerns led him to simplify his design. It now consists of a large square base which houses the gallery, a Doric column and an impressive 14-foot statue that depicts George Washington as Commander-in-Chief over the Continental Army.
The Monument’s design draws inspiration from Roman architecture, but its materials are entirely homegrown. The base, the column and the statue all consist of marble from three Baltimore quarries. Over the years, additional details, like the exterior bronze portraits of Washington’s life and the cast-iron fence around the base, were added to the Monument. The lush squares and townhomes followed, giving us the Mount Vernon we see today.
What to Do at the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument Today
Today’s Washington Monument serves as more than a memorial to the first president of the United States. It is an important piece of American history, a symbol of Baltimore pride and the heart of the Mount Vernon community.
The monument is also the star of a beloved holiday tradition for more than 50 years, the Annual Monument Lighting, which features live music, good food and fireworks! It’s typically held the first Thursday of December each year.
Inside, you’ll find interactive touch screens that offer virtual tours of both the Monument’s exterior and interior. These tours allow visitors to take in the views from the Monument’s many levels, including a live stream at the top that reveals the surrounding scenery in all directions. At another video kiosk, you can hear about the history of the Washington Monument and watch videos from its restoration in 2014.
While the Washington Monument’s impressive exterior can be admired at any time of day, the interior, which includes the gallery and digital exhibitions, is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is open to the public year-round, except for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving.
Both the gallery and digital exhibits are free to enjoy, though donations to the monument’s Conservancy are always appreciated.
Can’t make it to the Monument? Not a problem! A new interactive digital experience allows you to explore the Monument inside and out from the comfort of your couch.
Know Before You Go
Visitors are asked to wear masks inside the monument and to sanitize their hands at the station placed by the entrance. Disposable gloves and styluses are provided for the digital kiosks.
There are no bathrooms inside the monument, so visitors are encouraged to plan accordingly. Food is not allowed, but don’t worry: there are plenty of delicious eateries in the area to satisfy your hunger after you finish climbing all those stairs.
While You're Here...
Before or after you visit the Washington Monument, take some time to enjoy Mount Vernon. It is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city, with top-rated boutique hotels, art galleries, restaurants and shops to explore.
More to do in Mount Vernon
- View ancient artifacts at the Walters Art Museum.
- Cozy up with a book at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
- See the original copy of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Maryland Center for History and Culture.
- Explore over 300,000 volumes at the George Peabody Library.
- Hear the world-renowned Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform at Joseph-Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.