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Visiting the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown on Cape Cod

Updated on July 28, 2020
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State and national parks and historical attractions have long been a favorite destination for Liz, and she loves sharing them.


The Pilgrim Monument

Have you ever been to Cape Cod, Massachusetts? If so, you've undoubtedly heard of or seen the famous tower sitting near the end of the Cape. Maybe you've even climbed all the way to the top.

Many are surprised to learn that this was actually the first landfall of the Mayflower pilgrims, and where they spent about 5 weeks prior to sailing on to establish the Plimoth Colony. Yes, that is how they spelled it back then.

Although many people refer to this tower as the Provincetown Monument, it is actually called the Pilgrim Monument.

Looking up from the base
Looking up from the base | Source

Why Is This Significant?

This initial landing site is actually where the famous Mayflower Compact was drafted, while they were still aboard the ship, and it was signed by 41 of the colonists.

They might have stayed and settled here, were it not for an unfortunate skirmish with a local native tribe. They then decided they should look elsewhere for a spot to found their new colony, and hence ended up at the now famous Plymouth. (Yes, modern spelling is found on today's maps.)

As they had departed from Plimoth, England, they originally named their settlement New Plimoth, but over time it was shortened.

Plymouth Rock

The famous rock, with the numbers 1620 carved into it sits below a small pavilion. The pilgrims didn't carve the rock. That was done in 1880, after the end of the Civil War. It was then that the carving replaced the orignial paint.

The famous rock is much smaller than its legend would lead one to believe. It is also smaller than it was originally, thanks to several ill-fated attempts to haul it to various other locations, plus attacks by souvenir hunters.

Building Of The Monument

The concept for the Pilgrim Monument wasn't brought forth until 1892, and construction wasn't begun until 1907 under the term of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was involved in the laying of the cornerstone. It was completed 3 years later under the Taft administration.

It is constructed entirely of granite stones, and from its foundation, soars 252 feet into the air. With the base foundation figured in, it actually stands about 300- plus feet tall. It dominates the landscape for miles around, and is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States.

How Do You Get To The Top?

Well, depending on your perspective, that's either easy or hard. If you have physical limitations, it might not be so easy. But for most people, if you are not in a hurry, you can take a leisurely stroll up a combination of stairs and ramps.

Unfortunately, there are a total of 116 stairs, some at the bottom; some at the top, so it is not ADA accessible. However, the museum at the base is.

Once at the top, you are treated to a breathtaking panorama; you can see nearly all the way to the head of the Cape on a clear day. You can also look down and view Provincetown Harbor, which is the site of the actual docking of the Mayflower four centuries ago. In fact, 2020, the year of this article, is the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims' landing.

On your way up the ramps, there are several window outlooks, tall and narrow, somewhat resembling the arrow slots found in medieval castles.

Looking down the inside of the structure from near the top.
Looking down the inside of the structure from near the top. | Source
View looking back up the Cape from the top of the monument.
View looking back up the Cape from the top of the monument. | Source

The Dedication

On August 5th, 1910, the anniversary of the date of the pilgrims leaving England, the dedication ceremony was held with much fanfare, including the Atlantic fleet sailing into the harbor. President Taft arrived on his yacht, which was also named Mayflower.

Unveiled on that day was a bronze plaque over the doorway to the monument. It 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.

Therefor the remembrance of them shall be perpetual in the great republic that has inherited their ideals.”

How Do You Get There?

The monument is located at the tip of Cape Cod, in the town of Provincetown. The actual address is: 1 High Pole Hill Road.

US Route 6 is the highway you drive down the Cape to get to Provincetown. (Incidentally, that route is a cross-country highway, and the longest continuous road across the USA, with its terminus in Bishop, California.)

Provincetown is a small town, with a year-round poplulation of around 3,000 souls. Summer tourist traffic however, swells that number to near 20 times that number!

© 2020 Liz Elias


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