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Whether you arrive by land, sea or sky, the Pilgrim Monument is the first thing you see when you approach Provincetown, Massachusetts. Standing at 252 feet 7.5 inches (76.8 metres) and rising 350 feet (106.7 metres) above sea level, the Monument – built from 1907 to 1910 – commemorates the first landing of the 'Mayflower' Pilgrims in the New World in Provincetown on 21 November 1620 and the signing of the 'Mayflower Compact' in Provincetown Harbor. According to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, it is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States.
Although there was an attempt as early as 1852 by Cape Cod citizens to raise money to build a monument on High Pole Hill to commemorate the Pilgrims' landing, it was not until four decades later, on 29 February 1892, that the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association incorporated as a non-profit organization to collect funds for construction. Ten years later, in 1902, High Pole Hill was deeded to the Association by the Town of Provincetown to be used as a site for the monument. During its first year, the Association had raised $10,000 from individual donors as well as a contribution of $5,000 from the Town of Provincetown. By July 1905, it had also received matching funds of $25,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and on a third attempt, matching funds of $40,000 was received from the Treasury of the United States. In 1906, as part of the terms of the Federal appropriation, a commission was formed to oversee the work. A separate Building Committee was formed to acquire plans, designs and estimates.
Within a period of five years, the Association had raised a total of $92,000 and were ready moving forward to solicit competitive designs through advertisements in several newspapers in August 1906. Their instructions specified that the monument had to be of granite, not less than 250 feet in height, cost about $80,000, and that all drawings had to be delivered on or before 1 October 1906. The Building Committee met two days later, on 3 October, and selected five submitted designs to receive a prize of $200.00 among the more than one hundred proposed designs received. The committee met again in November of that year and voted "that the Board of Directors of the CCPMA hereby approve of and adopt the design presented by Mr. Willard T. Sears as the design or plan from which to build the proposed Memorial at Provincetown Mass." Sears' design was patterned after a bell tower or campanile and was inspired by the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy – one of the best examples of this type of tower. Work on the foundation began on 20 June 1907 and was completed in only 49 days, on 8 August. The excavation for the foundation was sixty feet (18.2 metres) square and eight feet (2.4 metres) deep. The foundation consists of a solid mass of concrete reinforced with steels rods that extended five feet (1.5 metres) above the surface gradually narrowing so that its top was 28 feet (8.5 metres) square.
President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) laid the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument on 30 August 1907 – three weeks after the foundation was prepared. President Roosevelt sailed from his summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, on the Presidential yacht coincidentally named the 'Mayflower.' There were thousands who had gathered to witness the approach of his vessel accompanied by two torpedo boats as a twenty-one-gun salute was given from all eight battleships formed a lane for the yacht to pass through as it entered Provincetown Harbor. As the guest of honour at this formal Masonic ceremony, he gave the main speech. Mrs. Roosevelt and their son, Quentin, and daughter, Ethel, were also present at the ceremony. People lined the streets to watch the procession pass and a platform and bleachers were built on the hill to accommodate the spectators. The Van Amringe company of Boston donated the cornerstone, a block of North Carolina granite weighing forty-eight hundred pounds (2.18 metric tons).
By the spring of 1908 the plans were almost complete and requests for bids were sent out in March of 1908, and the lowest bid for the work was $73,865 from the firm of Maguire & O’Heron, of Milton, Massachusetts. "The specifications for the materials to be used in the Pilgrim Monument were very strict: the granite had to come from the quarries of John L. Goss, of Stonington, Maine, only fresh water could be used for the mortar and cement work, and the tower had to be completed on or before December 31, 1909 or a fine of five dollars a day for each day's delay was to be paid." Construction was begun on 18 June 1908 with its first piece of granite, weighing 4,000 pounds (1.8 metric tons). The stone was put in place during 1909 with the interior system of stairs, ramps, railings, shutters, doors and other details finished by June of 1910. The walk to the top on 116 steps and 60 ramps takes about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace.
President William Howard Taft (1857-1930) led the dedication ceremony after the Pilgrim Monument's completion on 5 August 1910 – the anniversary of the day the Pilgrims set sail for America. Bleachers were installed surrounding the base of the Monument capable of seating more than 3,000 people. The Atlantic fleet of the United States Navy had sailed into the harbour the day before the ceremony. President Taft and his party on board, arrived at Provincetown early in the morning on the government yacht 'Mayflower' and dropped anchor near the spot where the ship 'Mayflower' is deemed to have anchored in November 1620. Taken by carriage to the Monument, the ceremony began at 11 o'clock during which included a formal transfer of custody of the Monument from the government commission to the CCPMA. It is interesting to note that the government retained the right to use the Monument during wartime and did not relinquish control over the tower until 1959. Although it was initially utilized as a lookout tower during World War I, it was rumored to be used as a testing area for secret communications experiments during World War II. The Monument's dedication was followed by a dinner and ball at Provincetown Town Hall attended by about 500 people.
The earliest tablet commemorating the first landing of the 'Mayflower' Pilgrims had been placed at Provincetown Town Hall, at that time located on High Pole Hill, on 8 November 1853. This tablet was destroyed when the town hall burned in February 1877. A fitting opportunity arose to erect a new commemorative tablet during President Taft's dedication ceremony, when at the close of his address, "Miss Barbara Hoyt, a young girl who was a Mayflower descendent, drew aside the flag that covered the bronze tablet over the doorway of the Monument." The inscription on the plaque reads:
"On November 21st, 1620 The Mayflower, carrying 102 passengers, men, women and children, cast anchor in this harbor 67 days from Plymouth, England. / The same day the 41 adult males in the company solemnly covenanted and combined themselves together "into a civil body politick." / The body politic established and maintained on the bleak and barren edge of a vast wilderness a state without a king or a noble, and church without bishop or a priest, a domestic commonwealth the members of which were "straightly tied to all care of each other's good and of the whole by every one." / For the first time in history they illustrated with long suffering dedication and sober resolution the principles of civil and religious liberty in the practice of a genuine democracy. / Therefore the remembrance of them shall be perpetual in the great republic that has inherited their ideals."
Provincetown has developed considerably since the 1960s and has become a "champion of diversity, inclusion and tolerance." The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum has made it their mission to ensure that this story is told correctly. The have recently established a new, permanent exhibit – "Our Story: The Complicated Relationship of the Indigenous Wampanoag and the Mayflower Pilgrims" – where "it illustrates the early history of the Wampanoag Nation on Cape Cod, up to and including the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620."
On this day, 5 August 2022, we mark more than four centuries since the first landing of the 'Mayflower' Pilgrims in Provincetown, Massachusetts, establishing the first permanent settlement in northeast United States and commemorate the 112th anniversary of the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument, the tallest all-granite structure in the United States.
André M. Levesque