At ‘This Place in History’ we visited the Bennington Battle Monument, one of the most recognizable State Historic Sites with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. After climbing 412 stairs, it was time to check in with site administrator Marylou Chicote.
“It was started in 1887, that’s the year they laid the first cornerstone. It took two years to finish the stone work. The stone work was finished in 1889 and it was opened in 1891 to coincide with the Vermont Centennial as a state. So it is 126 years old this year. They started with scaffolding double-sided and they used steam engine derricks to lift the stones up. They had mules pulling the ropes and hauling the stones up. We have some pictures of the early construction and you see the steam engine in the background. It was pretty phenomenal. It was back in the years when they could just do it,” said Chicote.
“The stones came from Hudson Falls, New York. They were cut right here on the site. There was a train line that brought them right through this spot. The layout of the stones was called headers and stretchers, similar to Legos. They had double stones this way and then they put the stones on top the other way. It was just built on up, pretty amazing,” observed Chicote.
“I’ve heard that this was not the first design. How did we end up with this design?” asked Perkins.
“A fellow named Hiland Hall was afraid that people would forget about the Battle of Bennington, so he lobbied to have something put up as a memorial to the battle. He formed a design committee to come up with a design. The first was too small. He said, ‘No no, people are not coming to come see that.’ The second design was a little bigger, but he said, ‘You still don’t get it. I want it massive and lofty.’ An architect by the name of J. Phillipp Rinn said, ‘You want lofty? I’ve got a design for you!’ He showed them a phenomenal design which is the same height, but it had a lot of other turrets and buildings to it. That was the first one Hiland Hall looked at and said, ‘Now we’re talking.’ Construction from start to finish came to $112,000 including the land. So the funds came from the federal government, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Schoolchildren collected money and there were private donations. So it was the combination of a lot of people coming together to donate to construct the monument,” answered Chicote.
“The opening was really impressive. The President of the United States at the time was here. Calvin Coolidge was here as a young boy. There were thousands of people here in Bennington. There’s a photo that shows an arch that was built over the Main Street downtown. It’s full of people, dignitaries from all over.”
“We are part of the landing pattern of the airport, which is a mile and a half away. So the lights at the top have to be kept on all the time. There’s a ladder that leads up to the top to get those lights. There’s a control room to the elevator up above us that’s a separate climate-controlled room for the elevator’s workings.”
“We get visitors from all over the world. In one day, we can see people from 10 different counties. We were written up in a lot of German and French travel books. We’re actually well-known in foreign countries. We get visitors from all state and from Vermont. You come to the monument, buy tickets in the gift shop, come on over. We have an elevator that takes people up to the observation floor. There’s a lot to see downstairs. There’s lots of exhibits that explain how it was built, who wanted it built,” concluded Chicote.
At the Bennington Battle Monument, at ‘This Place in History’!
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