1847 Ribbon Commemorating the Laying of the Corner Stone of New York City Washington Monument
Item #MA1891 – scarce ribbon commemorating the laying of the cornerstone of the lost NYC Washington Monument

On October 19, 1847, a grand celebration proceeded the laying of the cornerstone of New York City’s planned 425-foot Washington Monument. The monument was never completed and the cornerstone was lost to time.

In 1833, a group of New York City citizens founded the Washington Monument Association of the City of New York. They believed the city, which had once been the nation’s capital and the site of Washington’s first inauguration, should be home to a large memorial to America’s first president.

It took several years, but they finally received public support and donations and began planning the monument. The design they selected was created by Calvin Pollard, who had previously helped design the Brooklyn Borough Hall. His 425-foot monument would be the tallest building in the city by more than 140 feet (the then-tallest building was the 284-foot Trinity Church). It was said it would be able to be seen from 50 miles away. Pollard’s design was a Gothic tapered granite tower that would be placed on a hill in Hamilton Square. The base of the monument would include a library and art studios, while an observatory would be placed above.

1951 3¢ Battle of Brooklyn
US #1003 pictures Washington evacuating troops during the Battle of Brooklyn.

On October 19, 1847, a massive crowd estimated at 250,000 (about half the city’s population at the time) attended the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone of the monument. The date was significant – it was the 66th anniversary of George Washington accepting British General Charles Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. 

1931 2¢ Yorktown Issue
US #703 was issued for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown.

The day’s celebrations began that morning at City Hall in Lower Manhattan. The large crowd then marched more than four miles to Hamilton Square on the Upper East Side. After the firing of a lone gun, a prayer was said and the governor of New York laid the cornerstone. Several local musical societies then sang a song written for the occasion by George P. Morris (which you can read here). Chief Justice Samuel Jones then delivered a speech, which was followed by another song a more speeches. 

1939 3¢ Inauguration of Washington
US #854 – Washington’s first inauguration was held in NY on April 30, 1789.

Opinions about the monument were mixed. The New York Herald said it would be “one of the most splendid Monumental Edifices ever.” Meanwhile, the New York Evening Express said that “in order to make it a Washington Monument, there should be something whereby a stranger could be enabled to recognize it as such.” Another publication, The New York Sun, wrote “New York will shame herself and the memory of Washington be desecrated by any tinselly Gothic structure and we pray in common with thousands that the corner stone now laid for a Gothic spire will be left to lie alone forever.”

1985 18¢ George Washington and Monument
US #2149 – The cornerstone for the national Washington monument was laid less than a year later on July 4, 1848.

Despite the grand public ceremony, the monument failed to get enough money to move forward. Over time the monument was forgotten and the area where it was to be built, Hamilton Square, became home to buildings instead of a park. The fate of the cornerstone is uncertain. A New York Herald article from 1879 said that the cornerstone was included in the foundation of Mount Sinai Hospital. However, that building was torn down when the hospital relocated in 1904  However, another publication claimed in 1890 that Terrence Farley had received a contract to level the old Hamilton Square in 1867 and may have taken the cornerstone for himself. The article went on to say, “no man knoweth of its location to this day… Is it not a ludicrous outcome for a great city enterprise? And slightly humiliating?” 

1952 3¢ Engineering Centennial
US #1012 – New York’s George Washington Bridge connects two sites of former forts he used during the Revolutionary War.

While this monument was abandoned, New York City did eventually create monuments to Washington, most notably the equestrian statue in Union Square (1856) and the Washington Square arch (1891). 

Click here for an illustration of the procession to the cornerstone ceremony.

And click here for an early article about the monument as well as a drawing of the proposed monument.

Click here for more Washington stamps.

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