Washington's journey to the Colusa Courthouse
Progress toward a memorial finally began in 1832. That year, which marked the 100th anniversary of Washington's birth, a large group of concerned citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society. In 1836, after they had raised $28,000 in donations ($600,000 in 2010 dollars), they announced a competition for the design of the memorial.
The society held a competition for designs in 1836. The winner, architect Robert Mills, was well qualified for the commission. The citizens of Baltimore had chosen him to build a monument to Washington, and he had designed a tall Greek column surmounted by a statue of the President. Mills also knew the capital well, having just been chosen Architect of Public Buildings for Washington. His design called for a tall obelisk-an upright, four-sided pillar that tapers as it rises-with a nearly flat top. He surrounded the obelisk with a circular colonnade, the top of which would feature Washington standing in a chariot. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes.
Criticism of Mills' design and its estimated price tag of more than $1 million ($21.1 million in 2010 dollars) caused the society to hesitate. Its members decided to start building the obelisk, and to leave the question of the colonnade for later. They believed that if they used the $87,000 they had already collected to start work, the appearance of the monument would spur further donations that would allow them to complete the project.
Excavation for the foundation of the Monument began in early 1848. Construction continued until 1854, when donations ran out. The next year, Congress voted to appropriate $200,000 to continue the work, and then rescinded the appropriation before any money could be spent. This reversal came because of a new policy the society had adopted in 1849. It had agreed, after a request from some Alabamians, to encourage all states and territories to donate commemorative stones that could be fitted into the interior walls. Members of the society believed this practice would make citizens feel they had a part in building the monument, and it would cut costs by limiting the amount of stone that had to be bought. Blocks of Maryland marble, granite and sandstone steadily appeared at the site. American Indian tribes, professional organizations, societies, businesses and foreign nations donated stones that were 4 feet by 2 feet by 12-18 inches. One stone was donated by the Ryukyu Kingdom and brought back by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, but never arrived in Washington (it was replaced in 1989). Many of the stones donated for the monument carried inscriptions that did not commemorate George Washington. For example, one from the Templers of Honor and Temperance stated: "We will not buy, sell, or use as a beverage, any spirituous or malt liquors, Wine, Cider, or any other Alcoholic Liquor."