The monument that towers over the National Mall in downtown D.C. is universally recognized as our nation’s memorial to the ‘father of our country” and first President, George Washington. Although it was initially proposed over one hundred years before its completion, it languished in the planning and construction stages for decades. Finally, on February 21, 1885, The Washington Monument was official dedicated. But few people know that the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk was not the first monument built in D.C. to honor the new nation’s first leader. Twenty-five years earlier, on February 22, 1860, a statue to memorialize Washington was erected in D.C. On today’s bike ride, I went to that earlier Washington monument.
The momentum to honor George Washington first surfaced before he died in 1799. The Continental Congress of 1783 passed a resolution to erect a monument to this hero of the American Revolution in the soon-to-be-built Federal capital bearing his name. But when a frustrated President Washington was struggling to finance and oversee construction of the new capital city on the Potomac River, he pulled the plug on funding for his own memorial. The project resumed when plans for a memorial were adopted during the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832. Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, inspired by the United States centennial, Congress passed legislation appropriating funding for completion of the monument. It was completed almost a decade later.
By this time, however, the more modest monument, The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, had already been installed almost a quarter of a century earlier. The bronze equestrian statue of Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton depicts him in the heroic, idealized Romantic style. It was installed where the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods meet, in the center of a park in the traffic circle at the intersection of 23rd Street, K Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).
The statue is part of the “American Revolution Statuary“, a group of fourteen statues in D.C., and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.
This monument may not be the most well known, or the biggest, but it does predate the more well-known monument on the National Mall.