Tag Archives: Washington Monument

- A Monument of Debt


Washington Monument, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, 2010. (Image used courtesy of George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The Washington Monument is finally reopening on 12 May 2014 after undergoing restoration for damage caused by an earthquake in August 2011. I was curious what the Library of Virginia had in its collections relating to the monument and discovered an interesting footnote to the history surrounding its construction. The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization formed in 1833 to fund and build the monument, solicited donations and designs for more than a decade before construction finally began in 1848. In 1854, the Society went bankrupt, leaving a partial structure that stood unfinished until Congress assumed the duties of funding and construction on 5 July 1876. Arlington County Judgment Samuel Harrison Smith vs. Thomas K. Beale, dated October 1838, sheds some light on why the Society found itself bankrupt.

The judgment concerns the work of James M. McRea, an agent for the Society sent to Alabama to solicit donations “for the erection of a great national monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government.” Included in the case are three letters sent by McRea during his travels in Alabama. In the first, dated 2 April 1836 and sent from the then state capitol, Tuscaloosa, we discover that McRea did not travel alone but took along his family, causing a delay in his journey when his children were “attacked … read more »