By 1823, Perkins had gained such a central position among Boston’s mercantile community that on June 7, he led a group of the city’s leading citizens that organized an association to erect a monument to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Although twenty-year-old Havard student Horatio Greenough had submitted an obelisk design in the first competition, a second competition was held that chose a similar stone obelisk designed by Solomon Willard that was planned to be the country’s tallest structure at 221.’

Left: Horatio Greenough, Submission for the Bunker Hill Monument Competiton, 1825. (Wright, Greenough); Right: Solomon Willard, Bunker Hill Monument, Charleston, MA, 1825. (online)

As the Erie Canal was nearing completion, the size of the monument may have been an attempt by Boston’s business community to divert some of the nation’s attention away from the project in New York.  While its cornerstone was ceremoniously laid on June 17, 1825 (the actual day of the battle fifty years earlier) by the Marquis de Lafayette during his triumphant grand tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution, construction actually languished for over a year while a method was devised to transport the heavy blocks of granite utilized in the monument’s design, the four miles from its quarry in Quincy to the edge of Boston harbor. After an attempt to build a canal failed, a builder named Gridley Bryant proposed to build a railroad to do the job.  Although his idea was initially greeted with much skepticism, the support of Perkins, who was to become the president and largest stockholder in the railroad company, was most influential in convincing the state legislature to grant Bryant a charter on March 4, 1826.  Although horses were used for locomotion, the Granite Rail-Road that was completed on October 7, 1826, is generally recognized as America’s first operating railroad (John Jervis’ Stourbridge Lion did not make its first steam-powered run on the Delaware & Hudson until August 8, 1829 (see Chapter 2.2) and as such, established a precedent for further ventures featuring intimate relationships between railroads, tall buildings, and the wealth that Boston had initially gained from the China trade.  However, due to financial problems, it took over seventeen years to complete the monument in 1842, and therefore, it never enjoyed the rputation of being the tallest structure in the country, as Baltimore completed the Phoenix Shot Tower to record height of 234’ in 1828.

Jacob Wolfe, Phoenix Shot Tower, Baltimore: corner of Fayette and Front Streets, 1828. At 234’ tall, it was the tallest structure in the U.S. when completed. The walls are 4.5’ thick at the base. Buck shot is made by pouring molten lead through a sieve at the top. As it falls, gravity forms the drops into spheres, before it hits a tub of cooling water at the base. (Online)


Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Whitehill, Walter Muir, Boston: A Topographical History, Second Edition, Cambridge, 1959.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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