Construction of the Monument Begins Again

As the Centennial Celebration approached, members of congress and others began to realize that the unfinished obelisk really was an eyesore. Something needed to be done. Of course, we're still talking about Washington, D.C. so that something that needed doing wouldn't happen without a lot of discussion, argument and bickering...

This post will cover the last twelve years of the Monument's construction. If you haven't seen the entries for the years between 1848 and 1872, just scroll down.


In January, the House of Representatives appointed a committee to confer with the Society on what would be required to complete the monument in time for the centennial celebration in July 1876. Within a month, the committee reported that “This rich and massive shaft, though simple and plain, would be a noble monument, worthy of the sublime character which it is designed to testify.” Not everyone agreed; a local newspaper called it, “a wretched design, a wretched location and an insecure foundation.”

In February, First Lieutenant William Marshall, US Army Corps of Engineers, assigned to conduct a brief inspection of the monument’s foundation, reported:

“My examination has failed to show any important changes to the condition of the shaft since that time [of the last inspection in 1859, when the Corps of Engineers assigned Lt. Joseph Ives to inspect the foundation]. The masonry of the foundation courses is rubble of blue gneiss. The blocks are generally large and the work, for this class of masonry, good.”  He didn’t observe any evidence of significant changes or settling of the long neglected monument, though admittedly he only spent a very few days on his investigation before he made his report. He reviewed the record of inspection that Joseph Ives had made before the war, and agreed that “all questions as to the stability of the shaft itself have been answered by Lieutenant Ives, in whose conclusions I agree.”

The committee recommended that congress grant $200,000 to the society so that work could commence on completion of the shaft and construction of a terrace around the base of the monument, but congress completed their session before they voted on the bill.


“The monument affairs stand as usual, ‘masterly inactivity’ the order of the day. Nothing can be done or attempted in the way of proposed Congressional Cooperation until Lieutenant Marshall’s report be made, and then only if favorable.” Letter from John Carroll Brent and L.B. Smith, Baltimore MD.  This letter referred to Marshall’s second assignment, to conduct a longer, more comprehensive inspection of the monument and the foundation. When his second task was complete, he reported again that the monument was secure, but that the foundation was too small. He recommended a maximum height of only 400 feet; a 600-foot structure would cause “excessive pressure upon a soil not wholly incompressible.” He also made recommendations concerning the thicknesses of the walls of the shaft to reduce the overall weight, as well as a combination of brick wall tops and a roof made of cast-iron plates rather than stone. 

The Corps of Engineers forwarded Lieutenant Marshall’s second report to the Board of Engineers for Fortification in New York City. This group of senior engineers and general officers did not travel to the site, but noted that Marshall reported that the earth under the foundation was subjected to nearly 5 tons per square foot at the monument’s current, unfinished height. They calculated that raising the monument to 400 feet would increase the load to the earth by more than an additional third, which they thought would be far too much for safety. “We could not…with the information before us, recommend that any additional pressure should be thrown on the site of the Washington Monument.”

It became clear to all that, despite the patriotic efforts and desires, the monument to the Father of the Country would not be complete in time for the Centennial.

“It is a constant mortification to the people of the United States when they come to this city to see that mutilated monument about which so much has been said, and so patriotically, this evening. I hope something will be done to rescue that monument from its present condition, although I fear that it is now the symbol of the condition of our government.”  - The Honorable Samuel S. Cox, Representative from the Commonwealth of Virginia, speaking to the assembled House in June.

In the fall elections, the Democrats regained the House of Representatives for the first time since 1860. The tide was now moving strongly against the Radical Republicans. 1874 also marked the return to power by the Democrats in the state governments of Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas; there were now seven southern states that had been “redeemed” or returned to the control of the white conservatives.


In July, Edward Clark, the Commissioner of Public Buildings and Grounds, wrote to the Society. His letter ended thusly: “…in conclusion, I will state that the present appearance of the Monument and its surrounding are likely to repel visitors; but, if the grounds are cleared of these old and unsightly objects, they will be attracted to the monument and its museum…”

The Society took his advice. The next month, an advertisement appeared in the Washington Chronicle, Evening Star and the National Republican:

“On Tuesday, August 24th 1875 at 11 o’clock A. M. at the monument grounds, I will sell a large lot of wrought and cast iron, wood pickets, fence posts, lot of wood, sash, blinds, door frames, slats etc. etc. also one horse. At the same time and place several wooden buildings, large lot of marble and gneiss stone, engine and boiler machinery etc. etc. Terms Cash.”   They made about $1500 after the cost of advertising and the commission for the auctioneer.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed, preventing discrimination in public accommodations. It was the first effort by the legislature to stem segregation by states and companies that provided services to the public. It was largely a symbolic gesture and rarely enforced, particularly after federal troops were removed from the southern states. The Act would be declared unconstitutional eight years later by the Supreme Court, who declared that the state did not have the power to prevent individuals from discriminating.


On April 5th, the Virginia Marble Company in Loudoun County, which was within 12 miles of the W & O Rail Line, offered enough marble to complete the monument for free, if the Society would pay for quarrying and shipping.

By this point, everybody that had an interest in seeing through the completion of the monument; the public, Congress and the Society itself, had reached the conclusion that, whatever else was done, the part of the monument that had been completed would remain intact and be incorporated into the final structure. “…all idea of surrendering the character of the Monument or allowing the structure, as far as completed, to be taken down, should be positively and emphatically disavowed.”  This conclusion would bring its own significant challenges to the men chosen to complete the memorial, but sentiment was very strong that there was an obligation to the people who had contributed to the effort over the many years, either with their cash or their sweat or both, that must be met.

Despite the delay and additional controversy that the Fortification Board’s dire warning produced, congress approved a $200,000 donation to the Memorial Society for the resumption of construction of the Washington Memorial. The act that provided these funds stipulated that the Society must surrender all rights and property to the federal government, but would remain in place to advise and solicit donations for the continued construction efforts. A Joint Commission was established; chaired by the President, the Commission membership included the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, the Architect of the Capitol, Chief Engineer of the Army and the First Vice President of the Washington National Monument Society. The act also required yet another evaluation of the foundation, by a new board of officers of the Corps of Engineers, who dispatched Second Lieutenant Dan Kingman to conduct the latest foundation inspection.

In September, the Corps of Engineers Board of Officers reported:

“1. That the stratum of sand and clay upon which the monument rests is already loaded to the limit of prudence if not, indeed, to the limit of safety…

2. That additional weight imposed at the top of the structure would in all probability cause additional and possibly extensive spalling and splitting in the ashlar facing near the base.

3. It is evident that the masonry foundation was not given spread enough to carry safely the weight it was designed to place upon it.

4. There has been actual compression of the soil to the extent of eight to nine inches, the shaft is sensibly out of plumb and the foundation courses show increasing departure from horizontality.”  (This last observation was based upon an erroneous sighting done from the wrong bench mark; the board later conceded the mistake, but stood firm in their contention that the foundation was inadequate as it currently stood.)

The board concluded with their concept of what the finished monument would be and what it would represent:

“It is a great, bare obelisk, plain to severity, a conception perhaps most suitable to symbolize the great character it would commemorate…for these very reasons, exacting in all its parts, and particularly in its foundation, all the perfection of elements and details that can be given to its material and workmanship. The stones which compose the foundation should be strong and perfect, truly shaped and accurately placed together. There should be no yielding of the parts, and no disturbance of the levels. Upon such a foundation, a monument could be reared fit to commemorate Washington, and worthy of the nation of whose foundations he was the chief master builder.”

This report from the board caused significant angst among the members of the Society. They felt that the report contained significant errors (particularly the erroneous eight or nine inches of soil compression that was found to be a mistake) and served only to further put off the long-delayed resumption of construction. The Society members felt, perhaps justifiably so, that the critics of Mills’ plan for the monument had merely cast around to find fault with something, anything, about the memorial; since attacking the design hadn’t worked and then criticizing the site didn’t work, they fell to saying the foundation wouldn’t support the memorial, and thus everything should be torn down and the project started completely from zero again.

The Society wrote, in part: “…The great scientific attainments of this last examining board will not be questioned and it would be an insult to suggest a doubt as to their fitness to perform the duty assigned to them, and their strict integrity in rendering a report of the result of their examination. But, Men of Science, of practical knowledge, of vast experience in such matters not biased in any way are of the opinion that the Army Examining Board have made a mistake…”

C. Seymour Dutton, one of the original competing architects who submitted proposals for the Monument’s design, was less diplomatic: “…Now while the worthlessness of the report in question has been abundantly shown…on the other hand, the absolute safety of the foundation has not been positively proved…I feel a deep personal interest in the completion of this monument upon the original design of a simple shaft and as I am unable from a professional point of view to see any serious practical difficulty in its way, allow me to sincerely express the hope that you may speedily be able to overcome all technical obstruction and proceed with the work…”

Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President in an extremely narrow (in fact, he lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden) and controversial election. The controversy centered around what became known the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrat-controlled House accepted the results of the Electoral College, giving Hayes the presidency, in return for the complete removal of the remaining federal troops from the South.


The scathing letter from C. Seymour Dutton concerning the monument foundation wasn’t the only one:

“D. Sir, Three Generals were appointed to examine the strength of the foundation of the monument. Two lieutenants report on the same; one favorably, one adversely.

Well do I remember 40 years since, when a boy in Missouri, having contributed one dollar towards the erection of the structure, and have earnestly watched its progress ever since as occasion has called me to this city. Lt Marshall says that one corner is 1 6/10” out of line at the top. Admit it, what difference does it make? It is still far within the center of gravity and is a matter of no moment. [Pun not intended, one assumes]

The foundation must be of the very best to have sustained the present weight for twenty-five years. It is doubtful if the generals could do as well today.

But again you owe it to the original subscribers to stick to the original plan, and as one Lieutenant is as good as another, to have a third part on the commission whose decision shall be final, we do not wish the monument stopped on a tie.

 Respectfully, Charles Wiggins.”

In October, after months of conflict between the Society, whose members were convinced that the foundation was secure, and the Engineers’ Board, the Joint Congressional Commission concluded in their report to Congress: “It must be assumed that the foundation is insufficient to sustain the weight of the completed structure.” Congress agreed with their conclusion.

In the South, President Hayes withdrew federal troops, as he had promised, and restored home rule to states that had rebelled. The Era of Reconstruction was officially over; the Radicals had failed in their bid to rebuild the South in their vision. Segregation and inequality, as well as violence and fear, would reign in the South for generations before the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s would finally see concrete gains in the fight for equal rights for blacks.   


On June 14, authority by Congress was granted to strengthen the foundation of the Monument. Just to recap the years of conflict on this issue: Not counting the inspection done by Lieutenant Ives back just before the war (although his inspection and calculations were often referred to by later inspectors), there were at least four separate inspections of the unfinished shaft and the foundation over a period of five years. Additionally there were several scholarly reviews of the findings of those inspections, the latest being from the Engineers’ Board. There were also the many meetings, debates and exchanges of letters between the Society (the majority of whom at least were convinced that the foundation was sound and sufficient and that the many inspections and reviews were simply bureaucratic can-kicking), the Joint Congressional Commission (some members of which it seemed clear were looking for ways to delay the project), and the many private citizens who held some special interest in the monument and a desire to see it completed. 

For example, in June Larkin G. Mead, the sculptor who designed and built Lincoln's tomb, wrote to the commission with suggestions for depictions of Washington’s life. The suggestions included Mead's own four bas-reliefs: Washington taking command as Commander-in-Chief at Cambridge; The Surrender of Cornwallis; Washington resigning his commission; and the Inauguration of Washington as the first president. Eight statues he suggested: a Marion Dragoon, a Morgan Rifleman, a Valley Forge man, a Minuteman, a Green Mountain Boy, a Privateersman, a Frontiersman, and an Indian. Finally, he listed eight panels: War, Peace, Religion, Education, Commerce, Agriculture, Science, and Art; and a scene from Washington’s early life: “Braddock’s Surrender”.  Mead's letter is illustrative of a couple of things: one, people at the time were very familiar with the many outstanding examples of George Washington’s selfless and superlative service to his country; and two, it would have been nearly impossible to capture all of those contributions and achievements in a single memorial. 

On June 25th, Army HQ Special Order 136 appointed Lt. Colonel Thomas Casey, US Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Washington Monument. Captain George Davis was assigned as his assistant.

In late July, Casey presented extensive plans to the Joint Commission for raising the monument to 525 feet using marble with iron fasteners. These plans included extensive detail on the underpinning of the old foundation.

In a letter dated August 1st, Robert C. Winthrop argued again for a simple obelisk (as opposed to the original design):  “…I fall back on the simple shaft as at least not inferior to any of them in effect and as free from tinsel or tawdry.”

Casey’s notes from the fall include lots of construction activity (to prepare for work on the foundation apparently) but no mention of final plans. He does talk of bringing in miners from Baltimore for work on the foundation.

On October 1st, Casey’s plan for strengthening the foundation was approved. It would both underpin and extend the bottom surface of the foundation. It would take the foundation from its current depth to another 12 feet below the bottom of the original, almost to the level of the water table. The new foundation would extend out 18 feet beyond the old; making the outer edges of the new mass over 23 feet long on an edge. Three buttresses on each side would hold the old and the new foundations together.

When the monument was finished (Casey was, at this point, calculating for a 525 foot height), the total weight would be over eighty thousand tons, which translates to a pressure of  just over 5 tons per square foot for the soil and rock under the foundation, very close to the pressure that the unfinished obelisk placed on the original foundation.

He determined that the work to underpin the unfinished monument that weighed somewhere close to 32,000 tons, “evidently a delicate operation”, could succeed by “introducing the masonry in thin, vertical layers.”  He would tunnel under the original foundation in drifts that were no more than four feet wide, and then fill those drifts with Portland cement concrete. Dowel stones set into the face of the succeeding concrete slabs, along with alternating wider and narrower sections of each slab, which would help hold the layers together and create a strong bulk for the monument to rest upon.

When Casey’s plan was approved, Congress appropriated $36,000 for improving the foundation. Casey calculated that the work would cost just over $99,000 to complete. His plan was approved, and he was directed to begin work on the first of October, but he was specifically ordered not to exceed the $36,000 limit that had been set.

There was much to be done. The monument grounds had been seriously neglected, the only work for years had been to clean up and dispose of some of the more unsightly junk laying around. Casey had to procure materials, tools, and machinery, and he had to recruit and hire a crew of workers. He made specific mention of his desire to find men that were skilled in tunneling and mining work, and he went to Baltimore to find many of them. Carpenters, blacksmiths and stoneworkers were also needed. A new road to the site had to be put down that connected to 14th Street and rails laid for connection to allow deliveries from the rail depot.  When the direction to begin work came, Casey had 44 men working for him, including a mason, three stonecutters, two carpenters, drillers, riggers, laborers and a night watchman. By the end of the year, as work fully got underway, his workforce had more than doubled.

As Casey began his work on the foundation, it’s interesting to remember that, though the foundation was and is critically important to the monument, it was and is mostly unseen and thus not a concern of most of the people that had an interest in the monument. They were interested in the part that could be seen, and “interested” doesn’t begin to touch the emotion that people held on the subject of the design of the Washington Monument.

There were very few people at that time who thought that a simple, unadorned Egyptian-style obelisk was a suitable style for a memorial for George Washington. The Victorian aesthetic, which put high artistic value in “all that was intricate, irregular and complex”, rebelled completely against the austere, plain spike that was now being planned. Henry van Brunt, a well-respected critic and a proponent of Victorian architecture, wrote, “No person interested in our reputation as a civilized people can contemplate this completion without pain.”

Many designs were offered that met this thirst for Victorian complexity. One design in particular, from William Story, an architect that worked and lived in Italy, was especially well received, particularly from Story’s friends in Congress. It was ornate and far different than the Mills design but it did incorporate the unfinished stump, and because of that fact, Story’s supporters argued that it would meet the obligation to the original Society of not abandoning the original conception of the memorial.

As late as December of that year, the Society itself was still torn as to what direction the renewed construction should take, and they were apparently at some odds with the Joint Congressional Commission. An extract from the Society’s proceedings dated the 17th of December of that year:

“Whereas the Washington National Monument Society have seen and carefully examined the plan of the monument prepared by Mr. W. W. Story at the instance of members of Congress of the Committees on Public Buildings and Grounds of the Senate and the House of Representatives and regard it as vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty of design to any other modification of the original plan that has been suggested and whereas the proposed plan does not involve the necessity of taking down the work that has been done, or the dangerous operation of underpinning the foundation and will obviate objections that have been urged against the original plan, and it is believed will harmonize conflicting opinions and give general satisfaction to the country.

Therefore Resolved that the Society do hereby approve Mr. Story’s proposed modification, subject to such minor modifications as may be suggested in the construction. Resolved further that a committee of five (5) members of which our presiding officer be chairman, be appointed to confer with the said committees in regard to the further prosecution of the work.” 

The Society later issued a resolution backing away from their approval of the Story plan, citing the apparent confusion and miscommunication with the Commission, who were obviously (since they were providing the funds) the ones who were in charge of the construction.

Thomas Casey was also thinking about the monument as he worked on the foundation. The commission had directed him to plan for a new height of 525 feet. He planned to use masonry up to the 500 foot mark and then “to crown the shaft with a pyramidal roof of iron, which shall be 25 feet in height. This roof can be covered with hammered glass over some portions, to give light to the well of the monument.” He planned for the marble and stone shell of the monument to be vertical on the inside of the structure, with a thickness of nearly 9 feet at the bottom, tapering to 18 inches at the top. He calculated that the final weight of the finished monument, with its 30 ton iron roof, would be 43, 671 tons.

As Casey worked to strengthen the foundation, the debate on the design of the visible part of the monument continued in Congress for more than a year.


Work on the foundation continued into the summer, when it became delayed due to a lack of Portland cement. Deliveries from J.B. White & Bros. were curtailed due to a longshoremen strike. Casey had received from Congress additional funds for the foundation work that brought the total up to $64,000, still far short of his estimate of $99,000.

Though cement made with burnt lime had been used in ancient times on Roman roads and aqueducts, Portland cement was still a relatively new technology at this time. Named after the Isle of Portland off the coast of Dorset, England, the formula and technique for producing Portland cement was originally patented in 1824 by a mason from Leeds, and a cheaper and superior product was developed in the 1830’s in England. Though Portland cement was exported from England to the U.S. from that time, it wasn’t manufactured in America until the 1870’s.  Thomas Casey contracted his cement through the New York office of J.B.White and Brothers, a British firm that shipped the cement from their factory in Swanscombe. He reported difficulties in receiving shipments of cement many times; events like longshoremen strikes forced him to delay work, furlough workers and change his plans, but his perseverance and management skills allowed him to see the work completed.  

In October, Casey reported:  “During the month, the excavation into the old blue stone foundation for the central buttresses on each of the four faces was completed and the buttresses built of Portland cement concrete. The mixture of the concrete used in the buttresses was as follows: 1 bbl. cement, 1 ½ bbl. sand, 2 ¼ bbl. pebbles, and 3 bbl. broken stone. This concrete is much stronger than that used in the slab under the old foundation…The quantity of such excavation in the four buttresses was some 348 cubic yards while the quantity of concrete in the buttresses is some 530 cubic yards…

Casey’s mention that the buttresses were stronger than the slab refers to the fact that in the slab, he used a mixture with more sand, pebbles and crushed rock, and less Portland cement. The final section of this book is an Appendix which more fully explains the details of the new foundation and contains a rough illustration of the old and new parts of the foundation.

Casey also began excavation into the blue stone foundation beneath the floor of the monument to obtain a space for the winding drum of the elevator, and that work was completed during October. "This excavation was some 18 feet square and 8 feet deep, requiring the removal of 96 cubic yards of masonry. The floor of this pit was cemented and leveled off and the four blocks to carry the bottom of the elevator drums put in place…Three cuts were all that remained to complete the slab under the old foundation… the slab is 126 ft 6 in square, 13 ft 6 in in depth and extends 18 feet…The slab contains 7033 cubic yards of concrete…”

In the well of the monument, the wrought iron frame supports the stone, the staircase and the elevator shaft using a system of Phoenix columns, which are hollow posts made of panels of wrought iron riveted together. Phoenix columns are lighter and stronger that solid wrought iron posts, but it still took nearly 600 tons of iron to build the stairs and elevator shaft.

Casey wanted the engine for the elevator to be able to raise heavy loads at a rate of 50 feet per minute. He contracted with Otis Brothers to manufacture the elevator and its hoisting machinery. Elisha Otis had invented the safety elevator in the early 1850’s and demonstrated it at the 1854 World’s Fair. 

In August, Captain Davis inspected the Beaver Dam Quarry near Baltimore and acknowledged that the marble did not exactly match the Texas Station marble in the original courses.  He also inspected quarries in New England and New York looking for the right stone to use.  The search for marble to match the original was exhaustive, meticulous and, ultimately, not entirely successful. Nevertheless, Casey was very exacting in his specifications for marble , which had to be “strong, sound, and free from flint, shakes, powder cracks, or seams, and must in texture and color so conform to the marble now built in the monument as not to present any marked or striking contrast in color, lustre, or shade, when set in the wall.”

By the summer, Casey’s workforce had swelled to 175 men, most of who were still working on the foundation. 

It was in this year that the question of the design was finally and fully answered, resulting in the iconic and timeless monument we see today. In February, the American Ambassador to Italy, George Perkins Marsh, wrote to Senator George Edmunds of Vermont to express his interest in the memorial. Marsh was, among many other things, a well-studied expert in Egyptian obelisks. The Senator passed Marsh’s letter to Casey, who recognized that Marsh’s advice was exactly what Casey needed to successfully complete his assignment.

Robert Winthrop, who as Speaker of the House had given the keynote speech at the laying of the cornerstone for the monument back in 1848, emerged during this time as a champion for Casey and his revision of Mills’ original design for the monument. Winthrop’s support and influence were critical to Casey’s success, and directly influenced the final design of the monument.

Casey began establishing materials and equipment to start work on the obelisk before he finished with the foundation. There were three main parts to the obelisk: the marble for the outside, the granite for the inside, and the iron frame that would support the memorial.  The frame would also hold the staircase that goes to the top and the elevator and the elevator shaft. 


In May, the foundation was complete; total cost: $94,000.  Casey later wrote, in his own memoir, a brief passage that underscored just how successful his feat of engineering really was: “Any apparent tendency to deflection from the vertical was at once checked by undermining on the opposite side, and thus the mass was swayed at pleasure, until at the end the original slight deviation was materially corrected.” 

In July, Casey advertised for proposals for supplying 40,000 cubic feet of white marble. Casey originally awarded the marble contract to John A. Briggs in Sheffield, Massachusetts, but after getting a great deal of stone that was defective and wrong in color, after almost a year, he had only enough to raise the monument six feet, he cancelled the contract with Briggs and awarded his business to Hugh Sisson’s Beaver Dam quarry. Today Beaver Dam quarry, located in Cockeysville, Maryland, is a swimming resort.

Casey submitted his (nearly) final design plans to the Society. Based upon what he learned from his correspondence with George Marsh, Casey had made some significant changes to the direction he had received from the Congressional commission.

Marsh had explained to Casey that the classic Egyptian obelisk was of a height that was equal to 10 times the length of the base, and that the obelisk tapered so that the base of the pyramidion cap would be two-thirds to three quarters of the base length on a side. This meant that the monument would have to be at least 550 feet high, rather than 525 feet, because the base was 55 feet on each side.

Additionally, the height of the pyramidion cap had to be the same as the length of the base, and the base of the cap fit exactly on top of the tapered shaft, with no ledge, overhang or molding.

Casey had written to Robert Winthrop, explaining his work on the foundation and requesting his support for his changed plan. Initially, Winthrop did not agree with Casey’s plan to incorporate the design elements that George Marsh had suggested, but Casey was eventually able to convince him that they were essential to making the monument not simply imposing on the capital skyline, but truly memorable and iconic, befitting the man it would represent. Winthrop was finally and completely convinced, and worked to champion Casey’s plan in the Society, the commission, and Congress and the public at large. In a letter to Congress, Winthrop wrote: “…a simple, sublime shaft, on a very spot selected by Washington himself…and rising nearer the skies than any known monument on earth, will be no unworthy memorial…”

In order to prepare the long-neglected monument for the resumption of construction, Casey and his men had to remove the top three courses of marble stones. These had been put in place during the period when the “Know-Nothings” had control of the society; the marble stones themselves were mainly pieces that had been previously rejected by the master mason, and, over the decades of inactivity, water had seeped into the masonry and forced the facing stones slightly out of place. Casey began the removal in late July and on August 7th, a small cornerstone laying ceremony was held at the 150 foot level with President Hayes presiding. The official party rode the Otis elevator to the top of the obelisk, and Hayes himself placed a small coin in the mortar just before the cornerstone was put in place.

By the end of the year, the marble obelisk reached 172 feet; the iron framework stood close to the 200 foot mark.


In this year, congress appropriated $150,000 for the construction. Casey’s crew would reach the 250 foot mark for the marble obelisk by the end of the year.

It was in this year that Captain Davis left the project to work as General Phillip Sheridan’s aide, and Bernard Green, a civil engineer and a long-time associate of Casey’s, became Casey’s primary assistant. Green, with whom Casey had worked back during the Civil War on coastal fortifications in Maine and other parts of New England, played a significant role in making the final significant changes to the design of the monument. Back in 1878, Casey’s plans had been for the pyramidion top of the obelisk to be made of iron with hammered glass windows. As construction progressed, the men realized that a wrought iron roof would be too heavy for the marble obelisk to support, as the marble blocks tapered thinner and thinner near the top. Additionally, they understood that the roof would corrode and rust in the weather, staining the white marble facing below. The pyramidion would have to be made of the same marble of the rest of the monument.

Green drew the plans for the marble top, and the masons strategized on how they would complete the construction. The plans would still have to be approved by the Joint Committee, and there was a long way to go in the construction before they would be ready to tackle the top. 

James Garfield was inaugurated as President in March. He would serve just until September of the same year, when he would succumb to an infection after being shot by lawyer Charles Guiteau in July.


The Monument would reach 340 feet by the end of this year. Almost all of the marble came from the Beaver Dam Quarry in Cockeysville, with just a small amount coming from Massachusetts and New York. In his end of year report, Casey estimated that he needed $250,000, in addition to the balance of roughly thirty thousand dollars that remained, to complete the monument. This estimate only covered the costs of the monument itself, including the interior staircase and elevator system, but not the hoped-for terrace and surrounding grounds.

There was no money for a lighting system for the interior, either. Electricity was still a new technology at the time. The first commercial electrical power plant started into operation earlier in the year, lighting a small part of lower Manhattan. 


“To the Honorable Horatio King, Secretary of the Washington National Monument Society

Dear Sir,

On Friday, the 16th of November, the masonry and interior iron frame of the monument will have reached the height of 400 feet above the level of the floor of the structure. If that day should be a pleasant one, it might be agreeable for the members of the Washington National Monument Society in the city to examine the works; and it gives me pleasure to extend an invitation to visit the Monument at 10 o’clock that morning (or if the day should be stormy, the first pleasant day succeeding) at which hour I shall be on the grounds to welcome the Society. 

Very Respectfully,

Your Obedient Servant,

Thomas L. Casey

Engineer in Charge”

At the peak of the construction effort, Casey employed a force of about 170 men, over 100 of which were stonecutters, who earned $2.50 to $3.00 per ten-hour day. The delivery of marble continued to be problematic throughout the construction, but granite, which was used on the interior of the monument, had fewer issues; the color of the stone didn’t matter as much and, while Casey was still particular about the other qualities of the stone, he had no trouble getting all he could use. Almost all of the granite came from quarries in Maine.

The Supreme Court ruled in this year that portions of the 1875 Civil Rights Act were unconstitutional, as private citizens and private businesses have the right to discriminate based upon race.


On the ninth of August, the masons set the last piece of marble in place for the shaft, completing it at the 500 foot level. Below the 450-foot level, the workers could use galvanized iron clamps, but above that, the walls were thinner and entirely made of marble. Mortise and tenon joints were used above 470 feet, the level at which the ribs for the pyramidion started.

The pyramidion would be 55 feet tall, the same as the length of each side of the base. This conformed to the theory of Egyptian obelisks that Ambassador Marsh had expounded. There are 262 pieces of marble in the pyramidion, none more than seven inches thick. They are supported by the twelve marble ribs that start at the 470 foot level and converge at the top. A special crane and derrick were built, along with the scaffolding needed, as the shaft was being completed. Work on the pyramidion cap started in September and the capstone, a solid piece of marble weighing about 1.5 tons and over 5 feet in height, was ready to be put in place by late November.

Though Marsh had recommended against them, Casey designed and set eight windows near the base of the pyramidion, so that visitors could look out of them. They each had a piece of marble for a shutter in a statuary bronze frame that could be closed and locked, for aesthetic purposes. “When the windows are closed by these shutters, the pyramidion is much improved in appearance,” Casey said, “and the interior shaft is protected from storm waters, which would otherwise flow into them from the roof and flood the upper platforms.”

The capstone apex, which is about 9 inches high and almost 6 inches on its sides, is made of aluminum, which at the time was very rare. Since it doesn’t tarnish in the same way that iron or alloys might, it hasn’t stained the marble, but it does conduct electricity well enough to serve as part of the lightning rod system for the monument. The capstone is inscribed with the names of the President, Chester Arthur and the names of the members of the Joint Commission as well as the names of Casey, Davis, Green and P.H. McLaughlin, the Master Mechanic. The words “Laus Deo” also appear, as well as the date the capstone and the apex were set: December 6, 1884.

On December 6, the capstone of the monument was set. The Washington Monument was completed.


February 21, the day before Washington’s Birthday, was the Dedication of the Washington Monument. The event was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur. 

In addition to the congressmen and senators attending and the representatives of the military, there were many state governors in attendance as well. Though the weather was cold and there was snow on the ground, it seemed that everyone in the District was present to celebrate the long-awaited completion of the Washington Monument.

The pamphlet for the Dedication has John Sherman, the Senator from Ohio and Chairman of the Joint Commission for the Monument, as the opening speaker. W.W. Corcoran, the First Vice President of the Society, and Colonel Thomas L. Casey also spoke. The Grand Masonic Lodge of the District of Columbia held a Masonic Ceremony and 100-gun salutes from the Navy Yard, the Artillery Headquarters and Fort Myer were given as the group walked from the Monument to the Capitol for orations in the Hall of the House of Representatives. After a prayer from the Reverend S. A. Wallis of Pohick Church (the Washington family church), an oration by Robert C. Winthrop, who as Speaker of the House back in 1848, presided over the cornerstone laying for the Monument, was given. His remarks were followed by John D. Long, a congressman from Massachusetts, and John W. Daniel from Virginia. Winthrop’s speech included this:

 “…No wonder the unsightly pile became the subject of pity or derision. No wonder there were periodical panics about the security of its foundation, and a chronic condemnation of the original design. No wonder that suggestions for tearing it all down began to be entertained in many minds, and were advocated by many pens and tongues. That truncated shaft, with its untidy surroundings, looked only like an insult to the memory of Washington.  It symbolized nothing but an ungrateful country, not destined as- God be thanked- it still was, to victory and grandeur and imperishable glory, but doomed to premature decay, to discord, strife, and ultimate disunion.  Its very presence was calculated to discourage many hearts from other things, as well as from itself. It was an abomination of desolation standing where it ought not. All that followed of confusion and contention in our country's history seemed foreshadowed and prefigured in that humiliating spectacle, and one could almost read on its sides in letters of blood, "Divided! Weighed in the balance! Found wanting!"

...An unfinished, fragmentary, crumbling monument to Washington would have been a fit emblem of a divided and ruined Country. Washington himself would not have had it finished. He would have desired no tribute, however imposing, from either half of a disunited Republic. He would have turned with abhorrence from being thought the Father of anything less than One Country, with one Constitution and one Destiny.

And how cheering and how inspiring the reflection, how grand and glorious the fact, that no sooner were our unhappy contentions at an end, no sooner were Union and Liberty one and inseparable, once more and, as we trust and believe, forever reasserted and reassured, than this monument to Washington gave signs of fresh life, began to attract new interest and new effort, and soon was seen rising again slowly but steadily toward the skies— stone after stone, course upon course, piled up in peace, with foundations extended to the full demand of the enormous weight to be placed upon them, until we can now hail it as complete!

...The Union was nearest and dearest to his great heart. ‘The Union in any event,’ were the most emphatic words of his immortal Farewell Address. Nothing less than the Union would ever have been accepted or recognized by him as a monument commensurate with his services and his fame. Nothing less ought ever to be accepted or recognized as such by us, or by those who shall rise up, generation after generation, to do homage to his memory!"


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