View of the proposed monument from the New York Herald in 1847 (L); Cornerstone ceremony procession by James S. Baillie, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
When most people think of George Washington and New York City they envision the Washington Square Arch, not only one of the city’s most notable landmarks, but one that clearly pays homage to our nation’s first president. Real history buffs may also recall the Equestrian Statue of Washington in Union Square. But before both of these sites were erected (in 1895 and 1865, respectively), there was a plan in 1847 to honor him on the Upper East Side by building a 425-foot monument that would’ve dwarfed Trinity Church, the tallest building in the city at the time.
An early iteration of Pollard’s design from the New York Daily Tribune in 1843
As Untapped recounts, it was October 19, 1947, the anniversary of Britain surrendering to General George Washington at Yorktown. The city’s population was only about half a million at the time, but a staggering 250,000 people came together for the monument’s cornerstone laying after a procession marched up from City Hall. They gathered in Hamilton Square, which once stood between 66th and 69th Streets and Third and Lexington Avenues in what was then still a rural area.
The idea for the monument began way back in 1833, when the Washington Monument Association of the City of New York was formed. Eventually they chose a site and agreed that the monument would be paid for by public donations. They went with the design of Calvin Pollard, best known for his work on Brooklyn Borough Hall. He created a “Gothic-style tapered granite tower” that would sit on a hill and have “a library and other spaces on the ground floor and an observatory above.” Its 425-foot height would have made it visible from 50 miles away and far outdone the 284-foot Trinity Church.
But after some unfavorable reviews and a lack of funding, as well as the fact that Hamilton Square never got fully developed, plans for the monument fell to the wayside. One account says that the cornerstone was moved in 1872 to the Mount Sinai Hospital building at Lexington Avenue and 67th Street, but that was demolished in 1904 when the hospital moved to its current location.
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