The Pilgrim Monument - The Tallest All-Granite Structure in America - and Provincetown Museum Commemorate the Pilgrims First Landing in the New World

Historic travelers to Provincetown can learn all about the Mayflower and the time that the Pilgrims spent on Cape Cod while fleshing out that missing part of history that our teachers apparently neglected to teach us in school by visiting the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum located on High Pole Hill Road. As the tallest all-granite structure in the United States standing 252-1/2 feet tall, the monument isn’t hard to miss at all – just look up!

The Pilgrim Monument was first conceived when a group of public-spirited citizens of Cape Cod got together and began the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA). Incorporated on February 29, 1892 and still active as the oldest incorporated non-profit organization on Cape Cod, the primary purpose of the organization was to collect money to build a monument at Provincetown to commemorate the first landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. The Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Assocation still operates the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum today.

In 1902, High Pole Hill was deeded to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association by the Town of Provincetown to be used as a site for the monument and in 1907, following the raising of $92,000 for construction of the monument, a contest to design the structure was held. Advertisements were inserted in several newspapers soliciting competitive designs and more than 100 drawings were submitted. The commission found several designs acceptable but as these were mostly in the form of an Egyptian obelisk - the same design as the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston and the Washington Monument at the nation’s capital - the directors and the commissioners of the project didn't want to use them.

Finally a design was chosen modeled after the Torre del Mangia built in 1334 in the Tuscany region of Italy.  The winning design was submitted by William T. Sears, a prominent New England architect who worked primarily in the Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival styles, and even though the choice of design was met with mixed reviews it fulfilled the Association's desire to build the monument in the form of a free-standing bell tower or - as it's known in Italy - a campanile.

Work on the foundation began on June 20th, 1907 with the foundation being completed on August 8th. On August 20th, during the course of an elaborate and imposing Masonic ceremony, President Theodore Roosevelt - who had come to the occasion by way of the Presidential yacht coincidentally named the Mayflower - gave the main speech as the cornerstone for the monument, a block of North Carolina granite weighing 4,800 pounds donated by the Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston, was laid. Formal construction of the monument began on June 18th, 1908 and on August 21, 1909, it was announced that the work on the outside of the tower was complete as the last stone was put in place. The Monument itself was not yet complete, however, as the interior system of steps and ramps, patterned after the one used in the campanile at San Marco in Venice, Italy, used to walk to the top was not in place. Work on the interior was begun in August almost immediately after the exterior was completed and continued throughout the winter of 1909-10 with all work on the monument completed by June of 1910.

The Pilgrim Monument towers over the roof of the Provincetown MuseumWith the exception of the cornerstone, the monument is constructed entirely with granite from the quarries of Stonington, Maine, and contains 175 interior inscribed stones that were donated by cities, towns, and organizations from across the country which can be seen beginning on the 17th tier on the climb up 116 steps and 60 ramps to the top of the monument. For an online listing of the stones which begins at the top of the monument and works its way down, please click here.

At the conclusion of the work on the monument there was great relief that not a single workman had been injured or lost his life during the construction; however, there was one death related to the building of the Pilgrim Monument - that of an elderly Provincetown lady. In a strange accident, lightning struck one of the special rail cars that was used to transport the granite up High Pole Hill from where it arrived at the wharf by ship. The car broke loose from its fastenings and rolled rapidly down the hill towards a timber barrier placed across the bottom of the hill in anticipation of an accident like this one. The car was moving with such tremendous speed though that it crashed through the barrier and across the street where Mrs. Rosilla Bangs, 85, was standing on the sidewalk paralyzed with fear. Unfortunately she was directly in the path of the speeding rail car and was killed instantly.

On August 5th, 1910 - in commemoration of the day the Pilgrims sailed from England - President William H. Taft led the dedication ceremony of the Pilgrim Monument. Like President Roosevelt, President Taft arrived via the Presidential yacht the Mayflower along with the Atlantic fleet of the United States Navy. Eben Draper, the Governor of Massachusetts, and Charles Eliot, President of Harvard University, also agreed to attend and make speeches along with President Taft and Captain J. Henry Sears, President of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association who made the opening address, welcome, and introductions.

Following the close of President Taft’s address to the crowd of 3,000 plus attendees, Miss Barbara Hoyt, a young girl who was the granddaughter of Captain Sears and a descendant of Elder Brewster - one of the original Mayflower passengers, drew aside the flag that covered the bronze tablet that had been erected over the doorway. 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.

On the same day the 41 adult males in the company had 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, a church without a bishop or a priest, a democratic commonwealth the members of which were “straightly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole by every one.”

With long-suffering devotion and sober resolution they illustrated for the first time in history the principles of civil and religious liberty and the practices of a genuine democracy.

Therefore the remembrance of them shall be perpetual in the vast republic that has inherited their ideals."
Following the dedication a dinner was held at Provincetown Town Hall which was attended by approximately 500 people. Decorated in the national colors of pale green and white, the room was filled with the music of a 17-piece orchestra from the battleship Connecticut while fifty young Provincetown girls, dressed all in white, worked as waitresses serving guests from a menu that included lobster stew, salmon with peas, cold roast tenderloin of beef with salad, roast turkey, potato salad, tongue and ham, followed by frozen pudding, ices, sherbets, cakes, and fruit for dessert. The festivities concluded with a ball in the Town Hall that continued late into the night following the lighting of the monument by strings of electric bulbs which were hung from the gallery of the tower to the ground. All in all, it was quite the celebration!

In 2010 a Rededication Ceremonial Celebration of the Pilgrim Monument was held in which a week-long schedule of activities and events led up to the August 5th ceremony that featured speeches by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and other dignitaries. Following a parade down Commercial Street that featured bagpipes, floats, birthday candles, antique cars, Mayflower descendants and honor guards, the over-200 Masons from around Massachusetts who had arrived by boat from Boston to honor the role their forefathers played in building the 252-1/2-foot granite tower, along with approximately 2,000 other attendees, made their way to the base of the monument for the wreath-laying and rededication ceremony. The day-long celebration ended with a concert and fireworks over the monument.

Even though it's said that once visitors have made it to the top of the monument the views are fantastic and on a clear day its possible to see as far as Boston, Nathaniel and I can only take their word for it as the monument was not open when we were there due to on-going renovations to strengthen the interior structure through the use of state-of-the-art advanced fiber technology, the same as which is used in aerospace and large bridge repairs. As of this writing the renovations have been completed and visitors can once again climb to the top of the granite structure which rises 353 feet above sea level and has welcomed more than 10 million visitors since its dedication over 100 years ago.

At the base of the monument, exhibits containing lots of information, artifacts, and memorabilia collected before, during, and after the construction of the Pilgrim Monument can be viewed in the Provincetown Museum which, in 1961, was the first building constructed to house a museum on Cape Cod.

The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum's collection is a combination of the collections of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, the private non-profit founded to build the Pilgrim Monument, and the collections of the Provincetown Historical Museum, which was operated by the Research Club of Provincetown, Inc. from 1923 to 1956.

The Ladies Research Club of Provincetown, made up of descendents of Mayflower passengers, was organized in 1910 by a group of women whose objective was to "restore the old burying ground, place historical markers, do ancestral research, and preserve an old Cape Cod House in Provincetown." As part of their work to place historical markers, the ladies began reading old letters and historical documents and upon finding the research so interesting, they then began to write papers and present their research as part of the regular club meetings thus becoming known as the Research Club. On March 7, 1923, at the time of their official incorporation, they added another purpose to their group: to establish and maintain an historical museum. In September of 1923, the Research Club took out a mortgage on an 1874 mansion on Commercial Street and following a winter of preparation, on the evening of May 27, 1924, Provincetown’s Historical Museum formally opened to a crowd of 500 invited guests before opening to the public the following day with an admission fee of 25 cents.

In August of 1956 the building and its contents were deeded to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association who voted to accept the Historical Museum collection, agreeing to serve as stewards of the collection for future generations. The CCPMA continued to run the Historical Museum on Commercial Street until 1961 when the present building on High Pole Hill at the base of the Pilgrim Monument was opened. Many of the objects from the first Historical Museum can still be seen as part of the permanent exhibits and others are put on view from time to time in special exhibits.

In addition to the exhibits pertaining to the Pilgrim Monument, there are permanent exhibits highlighting the arrival of the Mayflower Pilgrims, the maritime history of Provincetown, and the early days of theater in the town. Exhibits include a recreated 19th century sea captain’s parlor along with a recreation of the captain’s quarters at sea and the town’s first fire engine that was built in the 1830s by Paul Revere’s apprentice to name just a few things, and a collection of vintage toys just to name a few things.

The Pilgrim Wing of the Provincetown Museum
Nathaniel and an exhibit about the Mayflower
An exhibit about the fishing history of Provincetown.
Nathaniel and the dollhouse at the Provincetown Museum.
The jawbone of a fin whale on display in the Provincetown Museum
Eugene O'Neill's Legacy to Provincetown
The George Washington - Provincetown's Oldest Fire Engine
Provincetown's first hand pumper built by an apprentice of Paul Revere

Visitors to the museum can also view artifacts brought back from the Artic by Admiral Donald B. MacMillan, a native son of Provincetown who set off to explore the area with Robert E. Peary in 1908, along with more artifacts from a later exploration to Northern Greenland with the Crocker Land Exhibition from 1913 to 1917. Born in Provincetown in 1874, MacMillan was an explorer, sailor, researcher and lecturer who made over 30 expeditions to the Arctic during his 46-year career. He pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuktitut language. Provincetown's MacMillan Wharf is named in his honor.

A walrus from North Greenland
Polar Bear, birds, and other artifacts from Admiral Donald MacMillan's explorations.
Nathaniel bears it at the Provincetown Museum!

With something for everyone both young and old alike, whether you decide to climb to the top of the tower or not, the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum is a must-see for those looking to learn more about the history or Provincetown and its first visitors.  Open daily April through November with varying hours (check the website for details), admission is $10 for adults, $7 for Senior Citizens age 62 and older as well as students 15 & older with an ID, and $4 for children ages 4-14. Admission is free for members of the museum as well as children 3 and under.

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1 comment:

  1. Nathaniel! Look out behind you!

    I love these shots of Nathaniel! You know that me and History don't get along so much. But still!


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~ Nathaniel and Linda