Building the Monument
A group of public-spirited citizens of Cape Cod founded the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA).
High Pole Hill was deeded to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association by the Town of Provincetown to be used as a site for the monument.
Selecting a design
With $92,000 raised for construction and the site chosen, it was now time to select a design for a monument that would honor the Pilgrims and the signing of the Mayflower Compact in the harbor. The group chose to adopt the form of a bell tower or campanile. They decided to pattern the Pilgrim Monument after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, one of the best examples of this type of tower. Prominent Boston architect Willard T. Sears was chosen to design the tower.
Foundation work begins
Work on the foundation began on June 20, 1907. Work on the foundation was completed on August 8, 1907.
President Theodore Roosevelt speaks at laying of cornerstone
The cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument was laid in an imposing Masonic ceremony on August 20, 1907. President Roosevelt attended the ceremony and gave the main speech. President Roosevelt sailed into Provincetown harbor on the morning of the ceremony from his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, on the presidential yacht, coincidentally named the Mayflower.
By the spring of 1908 the plans were almost complete and requests for bids and specifications were sent out. When the bids were opened in March of 1908, the lowest bid for the work was $73,865 to build the Monument on the foundation already prepared. The specifications for the materials to be used in the Pilgrim Monument were very strict: the granite had to come from the quarries of John L. Goss, of Stonington, Maine, only fresh water could be used for the mortar and cement work, and the tower had to be completed on or before December 31, 1909 or a fine of five dollars a day for each day’s delay was to be paid.
Construction was begun on the Pilgrim Monument on June 18, 1908. The first piece of granite, weighing 4,000 pounds, was swung into place upon the foundation without any formal ceremony. Work continued until November 26, 1908, when it had to be stopped because of bad weather. It was resumed again on April 9, 1909, and continued throughout the summer.
On August 21, 1909, it was announced that the work was almost complete and the last stone had been prepared and was ready to be put in place. A small group of curious and interested spectators gathered. The stone rose rapidly to its final resting place on the northeast corner directly above the cornerstone.
When the interior system of stairs and ramps was completed, all was left was to install the bronze railings in the arches, the heavy wooden shutters on the windows and the oak doors at the entrances. These details were finished by June of 1910. All was now ready for the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument on August 5, 1910.
At the conclusion of the work there was great relief that not a single workman had been injured or lost his life during the construction. There was, however, one death related to the building of the Pilgrim Monument, that of an elderly Provincetown lady, Rosilla Bangs.
In a strange accident, lightning struck one of the special rail cars used to transport the granite up High Pole Hill. The car broke loose from its fastenings and rolled rapidly down the hill towards a timber barrier placed across the bottom of the hill in anticipation of an accident like this one. The car was moving with such tremendous speed that it crashed through the barrier and across the street where Mrs. Rosilla Bangs, 85, was standing on the sidewalk paralyzed with fear. Unfortunately she was directly in the path of the speeding rail car and was killed instantly.
President Taft leads dedication
The dedication was held on August 5, 1910, on the anniversary of the day the Pilgrims set sail for America. Elaborate preparations were made for the ceremony. Bleachers were built around the base of the Monument capable of seating more than 3,000 people. The day before the ceremony the Atlantic fleet of the United States Navy sailed into the harbor.
Early in the morning the government yacht Mayflower, with President Taft and his party on board, arrived at Provincetown and dropped anchor near the spot where the ship Mayflower is believed to have anchored in November 1620. The President was taken by carriage to the Pilgrim Monument on High Pole Hill. The ceremony began at 11 o’clock. Captain Sears presented Henry Cabot Lodge, United States Senator for Massachusetts, who formally transferred custody of the Monument from the government commission, which directed its construction, to the CCPMA. The government retained the right to use the Monument during wartime. (During World War I it was used as a lookout tower and later during World War II it was rumored the tower was used as a testing area for secret communications experiments. The government did not relinquish control over the tower until 1959.)
Governor Eben Draper of Massachusetts introduced President William H. Taft. The President was received with applause and a round of cheers. The assembled crowd listened with great attention. At the close of the President’s address, Miss Barbara Hoyt, a young girl who was a Mayflower descendent, drew aside the flag that covered the bronze tablet over the doorway of the Monument.
The inscription on the plaque reads:
On November 21st, 1620 The Mayflower, carrying 102 passengers, men, women and children, cast anchor in this harbor 67 days from Plymouth, England.
The same day the 41 adult males in the company solemnly covenanted and combined themselves together “into a civil body politick.”
The body politic established and maintained on the bleak and barren edge of a vast wilderness a state without a king or a noble, and church without bishop or a priest, a domestic commonwealth the members of which were “straightly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole by every one.”
For the first time in history they illustrated with long suffering dedication and sober resolution the principles of civil and religious liberty in the practice of a genuine democracy.
Therefore the remembrance of them shall be perpetual in the great republic that has inherited their ideals.
The dedication was followed by a dinner at Provincetown Town Hall attended by approximately 500 people. The Boston Globe reported, “After dinner the street quieted down, for rain, coming lightly at first, increased to a full-sized shower, driving people to cover and spreading gloom among the fakirs, who huddled in doorways, covering their precious gewgaws with oilcloths and accepting the situation with stolid patience. Electricians at work string ropes of electric bulbs from the battlemented gallery of the great tower to the ground were greatly inconvenienced by the rain and wind, but stuck to their posts and completed their task before nightfall, when the lights were turned on.”
The festivities concluded with a ball in the Town Hall. The celebration continued late into the night.