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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

Provincetown Timeline: Building the Pilgrim Monument

Building of the Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown Mass


A group of public-spirited citizens of Cape Cod got together and began the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA). The organization was formed 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. Incorporated on February 29, 1892, it is the oldest incorporated non-profit organization on Cape Cod.

Spring of 1901

At a meeting of the Pilgrim Club of Brewster, Massachusetts, Captain J. Henry Sears presented a plan for renewing the work on the building of a Pilgrim memorial. When J. Henry Sears began to speak it became obvious that he had given the plan much thought. “Here in this harbor was the first landing made, the first prayers said, the Compact–that immortal charter of civil liberty–drawn and signed. Here the first white child saw the light and breathed New England air. Here in this soil lie buried the first of the Pilgrims to succumb to the hardships of their journey. Here on Cape Cod the Pilgrims drank their first draught of sweet New England water; here they met their earliest adventures while exploring the country to find a place of permanent settlement,” said Sears. Surely the project of building a great and grand monument to commemorate these events should be completed at the earliest possible date.

As a result of this meeting a committee was appointed to try and arouse interest in the project. Letters were sent to various towns on Cape Cod. The response was so great that a meeting was held at the Town Hall in Brewster. Many speeches were given in support of the project and the people of Brewster served a collation or banquet. The results of this meeting bode well for the completion of the project first conceived almost 50 years before.

The next step was the merger of the Pilgrim Club of Brewster and the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association. Changes were made to the by-laws of both organizations. At the meeting on August 15, these by-laws were accepted and the two organizations became one. After this the movement advanced rapidly. Numerous projects to raise funds were begun and within a year they had doubled the amount of money in the treasury.


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. At this time a petition was presented to the state asking for an appropriation of $25,000. In February of 1902 the resolve to grant the Association an appropriation of $25,000, contingent upon the their raising matching funds by July 5, 1905, was passed by both houses and signed by Governor Crane.


The report of the treasurer for 1904 showed a balance of $10,000. At the annual meeting held in July it was announced that the Town of Provincetown had petitioned the state for permission to donate $5,000 to the project.

The CCPMA met its fund raising goal several months before necessary. Of the $15,000 raised during the last year, the Town of Provincetown contributed $5,000 and Andrew Carnegie donated $1,000.

The bulk of the remaining contributions were much smaller sums, the majority of one dollar each sent from nearly every state in the United States and the Philippine Islands. Each week the local newspaper printed a list of contributors. On the fifth of July, the president of the Association together with some of the directors called upon the general treasurer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to show the Association’s bankbooks and securities showing funds in excess of $25,000. With the matching funds raised, the Commonwealth promptly paid the $25,000 that had been appropriated.

With this goal achieved, the president and members of the board of directors began to try to raise money from the Congress of the United States. The request for an appropriation failed twice.

On the third try, the sum of $40,000 was appropriated from the Treasury of the United States contingent upon an equal amount being raised from other donors.


The act was passed and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in June 1906. The pen used by President Roosevelt to sign the bill was given to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association and is on exhibit at the Provincetown Museum located at the base of the Monument.

As the Association had already raised a sum equal to the $40,000 appropriated by the government, the Treasury of the United States immediately paid out the money.


At the annual meeting of the association in July 1907, the cash assets of the corporation were approximately $92,000.

This amount was considered enough to build an appropriate memorial. It was decided to begin work immediately on the foundation of the chosen High Pole Hill site. At this same meeting the members voted to authorize the directors to begin plans for the laying of the cornerstone of the proposed monument on August 20, 1907. This was a formal recognition of the work that had already been going on behind the scenes for several months.

Selecting a design

With $92,000 in the bank and the site chosen, it was now time to decide on a suitable design for a monument that would honor the Pilgrims and the signing of the Mayflower Compact in the harbor.

Advertisements were inserted in several newspapers soliciting competitive designs. More than 100 drawings were submitted. The commission found several designs acceptable but these were mostly in the form of an Egyptian obelisk. The directors and the commissioners did not want to use this form because the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts and the Washington Monument at the nation’s capital were both of this type.

The commission chose to adopt the form of a bell tower or campanile. It was decided to pattern the Pilgrim Monument after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, one of the best examples of this type of tower. With the design prepared by Willard T. Sears, the consulting architect, the next step was the preparation of the plans by the office of the United States engineers, in Boston, under the supervision of Colonel Burr.

Foundation work begins

The Aberthaw Construction Company of Boston was chosen to construct the foundation. Work on the foundation began on June 20, 1907. There was no formal ceremony to mark the beginning of the work.

The excavation for the foundation was 60 feet square and eight feet deep. The foundation is a solid mass of concrete reinforced with layers of twisted steel rods every five inches, placed 18 inches apart. More twisted steel rods, placed deep into the concrete, rose from each of the four corners of the foundation.

The foundation extended five feet above the surface of the ground. As it rose, it gradually narrowed so that at the top it was 28 feet square. The earth removed from the foundation hole was used to raise the surrounding grade of the soil to the level of the foundation. Work on the foundation was completed on August 8, 1907.

1907 Roosevelt speaks at laying of cornerstone

The cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument was laid in an imposing formal Masonic ceremony on August 20, 1907. President Roosevelt was invited to attend the ceremony by Massachusetts Senators Henry Cabot Lodge and Winthrop Crane. The President agreed to attend and give the main speech.

The Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston donated the cornerstone, a block of North Carolina granite weighing 4,800 pounds. It was suspended from a derrick ready for the formal ceremony.

President Roosevelt sailed into Provincetown harbor on the morning of the ceremony from his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, on the presidential yacht, coincidentally named the Mayflower. Eight battleships in two squadrons formed a lane for the yacht to pass through. Two torpedo boats accompanied the Mayflower from the President’s summer home. A 21-gun salute was given from all eight battleships when the President’s yacht arrived. A newspaper account said that the Mayflower was almost lost from view in the smoke from the guns.

The arrival and reception of the President was described by one newspaper: “Slowly the hosts ascended to the top of Town Hill, that magnificent pile of sand rising over the very topmost spires of the quaint town, where the monument is to be erected, and where the very pinnacles of the big grandstand offered an advantageous site for the very first sight of the Mayflower as she rounded into view. And there she was. It was just nine o’clock when the little tinge of black smoke far off on the horizon proclaimed her coming. Pollack Rip Shoals had been passed, and the gallant vessel, bearing the one whose coming was so eagerly awaited, was fast approaching. It was a glorious sight, and one that will never be forgotten by the thousands who had gathered to witness the approach.”

President Roosevelt road in a carriage through town accompanied by Governor Guild of Massachusetts and President Sears of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association. Mrs. Roosevelt and the President’s son, Quentin, and daughter, Ethel, followed in another carriage. Houses along the route were decorated with bunting. The newspaper account continued, “As the carriages reached the densely packed street, the cheers that greeted the Chief Executive and the Governor of the State were almost deafening. Men stood on fences, and women and children from every conceivable point of vantage took up the cry that resounded, ‘Roosevelt,’ Welcome!’ Hurrah!’”

A platform and bleachers were built on the hill to accommodate the people who wanted to see the ceremony. Speeches were given by all the dignitaries followed by a dinner given at Town Hall by the citizens of Provincetown. More than 500 people attended the dinner and others thronged into the balconies to hear the after-dinner speeches.


By the spring of 1908 the plans were almost complete and requests for bids were sent out. When the bids were opened in March of 1908, the lowest bidder for the work was the firm of Maguire & O’Heron, Milton, Massachusetts. They bid $73,865 dollars to build the Monument on the foundation already prepared. This price did not include doors and windows, rainwater leaders, or lightening conductors.

The specifications for the materials to be used in the Pilgrim Monument were very strict. The granite must 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 must 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.

June 18, 1908 Construction begins

Construction was begun on the Pilgrim Monument on June 18, 1908. The first piece of granite, weighing 4,000 pounds, was swung into place upon the foundation without any formal ceremony. Work continued throughout the summer under the immediate direction of Fred George, representing the contractor, and Will A. Clark, on behalf of the United States Government.

Will Clark made daily records of work at the site and made reports to Colonel Burr of the Army Corps of Engineers. Granite was brought by boat from the quarry at Stonington, Maine and unloaded onto a float at the wharf. A derrick was used to place the blocks onto a small railway car for the ride along the special rails laid to the construction site on top of High Pole Hill. Each stone was cut on location and lettered and numbered to indicate the spot where it was to be placed. At the 17th tier, workers began to put into place a number of memorial stones presented by societies of Mayflower Descendants and towns in existence when the Plymouth colony was in existence. Work continued until November 26, 1908, when it had to be stopped because of bad weather. It was resumed again on April 9, 1909, and continued throughout the summer.


On August 21, 1909, it was announced that the work was almost complete and the last stone had been prepared and was ready to be put in place. A small group of curious and interested spectators gathered. Perhaps the proudest of those gathered was Captain J. Henry Sears who had worked so hard to make sure the Monument was built. Several other members of the CCPMA were also present. Four people pulled the stone weighing about one ton to the top using ropes and a pulley. They were Mr. W. A. Clarke, the government inspector; Mr. Richard J. Person, the derrick man who had directed the raising of all the stones; Miss Isabel George, age 11, and Miss Annie Cromar, age 14, the daughter and niece of Fred George, the foreman of the stonework. The stone rose rapidly to its final resting place on the northeast corner directly above the cornerstone.

The Monument was not yet complete, however, as the interior system of steps and ramps used to walk to the top was not in place. This system of stairs and ramps was patterned after the one used in the campanile at San Marco in Venice, Italy. The incline is self-supporting and made of concrete and steel.

Ramps and stairs

When the Monument was being built a heavy framework of wood in the interior of the Monument was employed as a support for the staging used to hoist the stones into place. When work was complete, the interior framework remained. It was then used as a staging for the construction of the incline up the interior of the tower. It was necessary; therefore, to build the series of ramps and steps from the top down, dismantling the interior staging as the work progressed. Work on the interior was begun in August almost immediately after the exterior was completed and continued throughout the winter of 1909-10.


The Monument was heated with steam from the engines used in the work. The steps and ramps on the interior were completed on March 29, 1910. Installing the bronze railings in the arches, the heavy wooden shutters on the windows, and the oak doors at the entrances were all that needed to be done now. These details were finished by June of 1910. The bronze tablet over the front entrance was put in place around the first of August. All was now ready for the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910.

At the conclusion of the work 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, Rosilla Bangs.

In a strange accident, lightning struck one of the special rail cars used to transport the granite up High Pole Hill. 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 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.

Once the Monument was complete it was decided to hold the dedication on August 5, the day the Pilgrims set sail for America. Eben Draper, the Governor of Massachusetts; William H. Taft, the President of the United States; and Charles Eliot, President of Harvard University all agreed to attend and make speeches. Elaborate preparations were made for the ceremony. Bleachers were built around the base of the Monument capable of seating more than 3,000 people. The day before the ceremony the Atlantic fleet of the Navy of the United States sailed into the harbor.

The Boston Globe did extensive coverage of the event. Under the headline “Busy Day for Old Provincetown,” they described the arrival of the crowd, “The train crowd had no sooner scattered through the town, snapping up at advanced prices most of the sleeping rooms available, when the steamer from Boston arrived, loaded to the guards with people. Officially she was to have 837 aboard.

“The steamer brought down a crack band from Salem. A tally-ho coach, paneled in mirrors, imported from Taunton, was on hand to meet them. The band men got into the coach, the horses were whipped up and the outfit made a great strike as it went up the long pier to the town. On the steamer came also about 100 fakirs. These camp followers of fortune represented every known trade of the government from the lemonade merchant to the wheel-of-fortune man and the furtive, yet hopeful, shell game artist. They came up the pier at a dog trot, bent on securing the best possible spots on which to do business, and in 10 minutes after their arrival their little booths and stands were going up in every tiny front yard that could be hired.”

August 5, 1910 Taft leads dedication

No time was wasted in transporting President Taft to High Pole Hill. The official dedication began with a prayer. The Harvard Quartet of Boston sang a special hymn written for the occasion. President Sears, of the CCPMA, made the opening address, welcome, and introductions. Charles Eliot, President of Harvard University, spoke next.

After a musical interlude by the Salem Cadet band, the speeches continued. Captain Sears presented Henry Cabot Lodge, United States Senator for Massachusetts who formally transferred custody of the Monument from the government commission, which directed its construction, to the CCPMA.

The government retained the right to use the Monument during wartime. During World War I it was used as a lookout tower and later during World War II it was rumored the tower was used as a testing area for secret communications experiments. The government did not relinquish full control over the tower however until 1959.

Senator Lodge’s speech was followed by a well-known poem of the time, The Landing of the Pilgrims, written by Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans and sung by the Harvard Quartet.

Next to speak was the Honorable James T. McCleary, Congressmen from Minnesota, who began his speech to hearty laughter by saying, “What is there left?”

Governor Eben Draper of Massachusetts preceded President William H. Taft. At the close of the President’s address, Miss Barbara Hoyt, a young girl who was the granddaughter of Captain Sears and a descendent of Elder Brewster, drew aside the flag that covered the bronze tablet 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.

Mr. Henry Baker, a member of the Board of Directors from Hyannis, made the concluding address. A musical selection by the Salem Cadet Band closed the formal ceremony.

The dedication was followed by a dinner at Provincetown Town Hall attended by approximately 500 people. The room was decorated in pale green and white and the national colors. A 17-piece orchestra from the battleship Connecticut entertained. Fifty young Provincetown girls, dressed all in white, served as waitresses. The menu 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 Boston Globe reported, “After dinner the street quieted down, for rain, coming lightly at first, increased to a full-sized shower, driving people to cover and spreading gloom among the fakirs, who huddled in doorways, covering their precious gewgaws with oilcloths and accepting the situation with stolid patience. Electricians at work stringing ropes of electric bulbs from the battlemented gallery of the great tower to the ground were greatly inconvenienced by the rain and wind, but stuck to their posts and completed their task before nightfall, when the lights were turned on.”

The festivities concluded with a ball in the Town Hall, and the celebration continued late into the night.


-- Laurel Guadazno. iamprovincetown volume 2 issue 4, Thanksgiving 2002


Pilgrim Memorial Monument Provincetown, Mass. Completed August 21, 1909 Height 252 feet, 7 inches.

Image courtesy Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM)
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Railroad wharf with view of High Pole Hill in the background. Pictured is a barge with a crane that lifted the granite blocks off of ships from Stonington, Maine. The blocks were loaded onto carts and transported to the base of High Pole Hill. There the granite was loaded onto motorized rail carts, which carried the blocks up the hill to the construction site. Circa Spring 1907 A railway was constructed from Bradford Street up the side of High Pole Hill in order to deliver granite that was shipped by sea from Stonington, Maine. Circa Spring 1907. Three work men at foundation of the Pilgrim Monument, preparing the granite cornerstone to be laid by President Roosevelt, with newly constructed grandstand in the background. Circa August 1907.
President Theodore Roosevelt arrives for the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument on August 20, 1907. Laying of the Cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument on August 20, 1907.
A views of crowd and grandstand at corner stone laying ceremony on August 20, 1907. Beginning of foundation of the Pilgrim Monument with twisted steel placed at the bottom, ready for cement to be poured. Cement mixer and tracks with cart at top of hill ready to workmen to begin initial construction. Circa Spring 1907.
At the Laying of Cornerstone, President Roosevelt is seated before the ceremony begins as a large crowd is seated in the grandstands behind him. The presidential parade for the Pilgrim Monument dedication on August. 5, 1910. The image shows the parade moving west down Commercial Street near the corner of Ryder Street.
President William Howard Taft addressed the attendees to the dedication of the Pilgrim Memorial Monument on August 5, 1910.  On the left of President Taft is J. Henry Sears, President of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Assocation, and to his right is Mrs. Taft, their son Charlie, and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.    

All images and text courtesty Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM)


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