Some may not be aware that South Mountain is home to the first completed monument built and dedicated to the memory of our first President, George Washington. Although many people refer to it as jug or a tower, the oddly shaped monument was designed to resemble the end of a cannon barrel. The monument is situated on Monument Knoll, a mountain peak that was renamed once the monument was built and is near the Civil War battlefields of South Mountain and Antietam. Today, many park visitors come to Washington Monument State Park to enjoy not just the monument itself, but the view from the vista of the Cumberland Valley. Anyone who learns about George Washington, in my opinion should perhaps visit the Washington Monument that overlooks the town of Boonsboro.
On July 4th, 1827, picking up where they left off the previous year, several hundred citizens of Boonsboro decided to build a monument dedicated to General George Washington. Close to five hundred citizens gathered at the town square to begin their two-mile march up to South Mountain. With stars and stripes waving, they began to build the Washington Monument.
The site on South Mountain was chosen because of the natural rock crop of granite or blue rock, as the locals called it. Construction of the monument began around noon after a dedication service was held. By 4 o’clock of the first day the citizens completed 15 feet of the 30-foot tower, carefully cutting the blue rock into size with a circumference of 54 feet. There was no water source on the mountain, so when the stones were laid, they were laid dry.
The day ended with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a three round salute was fired by three remaining Revolutionary War veterans. The citizens would return after the harvest to complete the tower. A marble tablet was placed on the side nearest to Boonsboro that read: “Erected in Memory of Washington, July 4, 1827 by the citizens of Boonsboro.” The Washington Monument became a popular meeting place until the dry stacked stones began to loosen due to exposure of the weather and vandalism. These elements took a toll on the monument and prior to the American Civil War it lay in ruin.
The structure itself has a very interesting Civil War history. On September 14th, 1862, during the battle of South Mountain Lt. Colonel Edward Porter Alexander was riding with General Lee through Boonsboro when he observed a party of people on a tower like structure. Thinking it was a detachment of Union signal corpsmen, Lt. Colonel Alexander made his way up the mountain until he came in view of the party. What he had thought was Union signal corpsmen turned out to be citizens of the area.
During the battle of Antietam on September 17th, 1862, a Union signal corps detachment under the command of Lieutenant Halsted did use Washington Monument as a base to communicate with the signal station on Elk Mountain, the Pry House and also with Hagerstown.
A month later during General J.E.B. Stuart’s Raid in Pennsylvania on October 9th-12th, Union signal corpsmen under the command of Captain Benjamin F. Fisher were ordered to reopen Washington Monument for observation by Major Albert Myers on October 11th. Captain Fisher communicated with Lieutenant Spencer who was stationed at Hagerstown.
A year later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, learning from the mistakes of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, launched his Invasion of Pennsylvania. On June 15th, 1863, the first portions of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River near Hagerstown, Maryland and by July 1st, the Battle of Gettysburg erupted along the Pennsylvania countryside.
On July 4th, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee began to withdraw his Confederate forces south along South Mountain. Lee used Monterey Pass to cross the mountain and in turn access the Potomac River. The next day General George G. Meade began to withdraw his Union army from Gettysburg.
On July 8th, Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke of the Union signal corps reopened the station at the Washington Monument. Shortly thereafter Confederate forces were observed marching toward Williamsport, MD. During the mid morning hours, the Washington Monument played an important role in the Battle of Boonsboro, keeping Union General John Buford informed of every move that was made by Stuart’s cavalry.
On July 10th, Captain Denicke opened communications with the Bakersville, MD signal station. During the next several days, bad weather conditions interfered with signal operations throughout the Middletown and Cumberland Valleys. The Washington Monument signal station ceased operation on July 14th. It was at this time that Lee’s army began to cross the Potomac River. With the threat gone, the Washington Monument was no longer needed.
In 1880, the Odd Fellows Lodge rebuilt the monument and added a canopy to the top. A road was cleared leading to the monument, however the structure was laid as a dry stack. In the years following the monument once again fell into disrepair. In 1920, the Washington County Historical Society purchased the remains of the Washington Monument. In 1934, the monument was deeded to the Maryland State Forestry system and was rebuilt to its current appearance during 1934-1936, by the CCC or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today Washington Monument serves as a Maryland State Park where many come to enjoy the beautiful view that it has to offer.