Stone, Steel, and Bronze: Ten Great American Memorials, Monuments, and Shrines.
1. Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri. Defiant of gravity, at least seemingly, the Gateway Arch was completed in 1965 as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Its graceful curve, reaching 630 feet, was the product of the famous Finnish-American architect Earo Saarinen. The arch dominates the skyline of St. Louis unapologetically in both height and uniqueness and symbolizes the country’s westward expansion and the city’s roll in frontier expansion during the nineteenth century. The Arch sees 4 million visitors annually and is administered by the National Park Service. The unfortunate fallout of the structure was that the historic core of St. Louis was leveled in order to make room for the building of the Arch. The Old Courthouse, one of the largest buildings at the time of its completion in 1828, is all that remains of St. Louis’ old quarter and is also on the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
2. U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu Hawaii. This austere white monument is hard to miss as it stands out against the greenery of the tropical island and the cobalt blue of Pearl Harbor. This national memorial is more than just a reminder to the more the an 2000 servicemen who were killed the morning of December 7, 1941, but also has a shrine-like reverence because it rests atop the submerged U.S.S. Arizona, and the remains of many sailors are still interred in the sunken hull. Today the memorial is part of the National Park Service and it’s a very poplar tourist destination receiving 1.5 million visitors annually. The memorial was completed in 1962 and is considered an active U.S. military cemetery. It is the final resting place of 1,102 of the sailors who were aboard the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack.
3. Golden Gate Bridge, California. When the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed in the 1930s, and opened in 1937, it was dubbed the “bridge to nowhere”, yet today it enjoys world- wide recognition and has come to symbolism California and the West in a way that the Statue of Liberty symbolizes New York. Today it sees more than 100,000 commuters a day and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco. This 4,200 foot long suspension bridge is also listed as one of America’s Favorite Architecture and its signature gold-orange paint lends itself to this reputation. Its uniqueness rests as much with its engineering prowess than with its eye-catching color. At the time of its construction many believed it could not be built for a number of reasons among them strong currents, buffeting winds that funnel through the natural rock “gate”, deep water (the channel is 500 feet deep), and the frequent seismic activity in the area. Eventually the bridge solved a major headache in the transportation void which left this section of the bay, from San Francisco to Marin County unconnected, with the exception of a cumbersome ferry boat service.
4. Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Featuring the giant sixty foot faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, this granite memorial is perhaps the most iconic man-made monument in the United States along with the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Washington Monument. Blasted out of the granite of Mount Rushmore in the 1930s, the figures were the work of Gutzon Borglun, a Danish-American, and his son Lincoln Borglun. Administered by the National Park Service since 1933, Mount Rushmore (elev. 5725’) was built in order to promote tourism to the region. The carving, or blasting, was ongoing from 1927 until its completion in 1941. Located near Keystone, South Dakota, the memorial was originally intended to have busts of the four presidents but a shortage of funding limited the carving to only the faces. The four presidents were deliberately chosen for their roles in expanding and preserving the country. A good place to view the presidential heads are from the Norbeck Memorial overlook (el. 5445’), three miles south of Mount Rushmore on Rte. 16A. Between the towns of Hill City and Custer off U.S. 385 is the emerging Crazy Horse Memorial which was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski. When complete it will be the largest stone carving in the world.
5. Statue of Liberty, New York City. Lady Liberty is a national monument administered by the National Park Service and watches famously over New York Harbor from Liberty Island. It was given to the United States as a gift from France in 1886 and it needs no special introduction. Regular ferry service to the Statue is available from the boat terminals near Castle Clinton, the quirky circular shore battery that survived many of New York’s urban facelifts. The copper statue is 151 feet tall; 305 feet tall from base of pedestal to the tip and sees 3.2 million people annually. The pedestal on which the Statue sits is the former star-shaped walls of Fort Wood a costal defense fort. The island was previously named Bedloe’s Island. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Washington, D.C. It’s hard to visit any one of these with seeing the other two. Their close proximity to each other on and near the National Mall makes them all worthwhile for a one day visit. Honoring the respective presidents they are named after these three sites are the embodiment of the national national capital heritage and easily recognized from postage stamps and postcards alike. Their histories are different however. All three are now administered by the National Park Service which manages the land in this part of D.C., but it wasn’t always so. The first of the three to be built was the Washington Monument, a fitting tribute to the man whose city bears his name. The Washington Monument is a no-frills white, marble obelisk that stands 555 feet on a knoll in the center of the National Mall. Its presence and simple design is what makes it unique. The construction of the monument began in 1848 but was not completed until 1884; lack of funding and the Civil War prevented a swift completion. Designed by Robert Mills it is the tallest structure in the District of Columbia. Anchoring the western end of the National Mall is the Greek Revival Lincoln Memorial, which was dedicated in 1922 honoring the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The interior contains a huge marble statue of an introspective Lincoln sitting on a chair looking towards the Washington Monument and the various reflecting pools along the National Mall. The National World War II Memorial, completed in 2005, can be seen about midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The Jefferson Memorial, honoring the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, sits off the Tidal Basin, southeast of the National Mall, and close to Potomac River. This beautiful domed classical revival building is very Jeffersonian in character, and was completed in 1943 - designed by John Russell Pope. Its offset location along the Tidal Basin, framed by Japanese cherry trees, gives it an island-like presence. The interior is dominated by a huge bronze statue of Jefferson. Time permitting, visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, located just across the street from the Lincoln Memorial at th edge of the National Mall.
7. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas. Designated as a Texas state shrine, the words Remember the Alamo had been a battle cry for United States’ Manifest Destiny during the 19th century. It was here in 1836 at the former Alamo Mission that a band of American frontier militia were overrun by 1500 Mexican soldiers, inflaming the Texan settlers to take up arms against Mexico on whose territory was located San Antonio until the Texans rebelled and established a republic. Famous people died, namely Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and William Travis. The siege of the Alamo lasted thirteen days until General Santa Anna stormed the Alamo and killed up to 250 Texans. The tallest battle monument in the country, if not the world, is also located in Texas and commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, a decisive battle in the Texas Revolution. Located in Harris County Texas the column is 567 feet tall.
8. Bennington Battle Monument in Old Bennington, Vermont, commemorates the Battle of Bennington which was fought ten miles away in New York. The battle, which took place in 1777, was a successful effort by American militia to thwart a British raid on Bennington. Today a beautiful 306’ dolomite obelisk, the tallest free-standing structure in Vermont, sits on a hill overlooking the valley. The cornerstone for this dolomite monument was laid in 1887 and completed in 1889. The rock to quarry the monument is from Hudson Falls, New York. There is an observation deck at the 200’ level which has great views of Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. The monument is a state historic site and entrance fees are reasonable at only $2.00 for adults. Take sometime to walk Old Bennington, sometimes called the Williamsburg of the North. Chartered in 1749 the village of Old Bennington is a on the National Register of Historic Places. Robert Frost is buried in the cemetery of the Old First Church (c. 1806). If Vermont is too far out of reach the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston provides fine views of the city from the knoll on which it stands. This austere granite obelisk built between 1827 and 1843 commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The Monument is 221 feet tall an is located in the Charlestown section of Boston.
9. Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the best surviving examples of colonial Georgian architecture in the United States, Independence Hall served many functions in its vital role which makes it one of the most important historical buildings in the country. Its pivotal role in historical events and its unique architecture – the building was constructed in 1753 – have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list as well as its better known designation as the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park. Independence Hall is only a nickname that stuck as it was formerly the Pennsylvania State House when Pennsylvania was still a colony; it also served as an early capitol of sorts during the Second Continental Congress (1775 – 1783), and hosted the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was in this building that the Declaration of Independence was adopted as well as the U.S. Constitution.
10. Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland. It was from a cell window in this fort that Francis Scott Key witnessed the British bombard Baltimore during the War of 1812 that so inspired him to pen the words that would become the national anthem, or The Star-Spangled Banner. Today Fort McHenry is a National Monument administered by the National Park Service. It covers 43 acres of ground and sees more than 700,000 visitors annually. It was built in 1798 and is one of many defense batteries that guarded costal American cities.
Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This austere yet bold granite monument owned and operated by the National Park Service, commemorates the location where the Wright Brothers took their experimental aircraft to the air in 1903. A monument at the top of the well-maintained dune marks the spot and yields unparalleled views. The park is open from dawn to dusk and is a few miles north of Jockey’s Ridge State Park. A visitor center and interpretive museum explain the history of the feat which turned DaVinci’s theory of manned flight into practice. This makes for an excellent day trip, especially from the Norfolk (Hampton Roads) area, and can be easily combined with a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park along the Outer Banks.
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