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History of Early American Landscape Design

Solomon Willard

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]


Birth Date: June 26, 1783

Death Date: February 27, 1861

Role: Architect, Builder

Used Keywords: Column/Pillar, Fence, Obelisk

Other resources: LOC; Getty ULAN; The Cultural Landscape Foundation; American National Biography;

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Solomon Willard (June 26, 1783–February 27, 1861) was an American architect and builder active in Massachusetts. He is remembered chiefly for overseeing the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument (1826–42) in Boston, one of the earliest monuments erected in the United States to commemorate the Revolutionary War.


Largely self taught, Solomon Willard was a polymath who devoted himself to a wide range of pursuits: carpentry, sculpture, architecture, geology, chemistry, and agriculture, among them. Although he spent most of his career in Massachusetts, from 1810 to 1818 he also sought professional opportunities in the mid-Atlantic region, where he met and worked with a number of prominent architects. Willard carved “ornamental furnishings” for a church in Baltimore designed by the expatriate French architect Maximilian Godefroy (1765–c. 1838), who appears to have acquainted him with a number of neoclassical decorative motifs.[1] He also provided Charles Bulfinch with a carved wooden architectural model of the U.S. Capitol, as well as presentation drawings and working plans based on Benjamin Henry Latrobe's designs.[2] Returning to Boston, Willard carved ornamental details for some of the city’s first Greek Revival buildings and, by 1820, was working as an independent architect, incorporating elements of Greek, Gothic, and Egyptian styles into his designs.

In 1826 Willard was appointed superintendent and architect of the Bunker Hill Monument. Faced with the unprecedented challenge of erecting a stone obelisk over 220 feet tall, he cut costs by quarrying his own granite, leading to the establishment of several quarries in nearby West Quincy, Massachusetts, as well as a railway to transport the heavy stone.[3] Special machinery devised by Willard allowed him to use larger blocks of granite than had previously been possible. His preference for working with granite on this massive scale influenced his designs for monuments in and around Boston, resulting in a severe style of architecture later dubbed the Boston Granite Style.[4]

Willard was also responsible for a number of funerary monuments and cemetery projects, including a fifteen-foot obelisk for the monument to John Harvard (1607–1638) in the Phipps Street Burial Ground in Charleston (1828)[5] and a twenty-five-foot granite obelisk marking the graves of Benjamin Franklin’s parents in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston (1827), where Willard also designed a new granite wall and Egyptian revival gateway (1831; erected 1840).[6] In approximately 1840, Willard laid out the grounds of the Hall Place cemetery in Quincy and erected a thirty-ton column there, reportedly depositing a set of stonecutter’s tools in the top of the shaft.[7]

Robyn Asleson


  • Willard, Solomon, 1825, in a letter to George Ticknor, member of the Bunker Hill Monument Association Standing Committee (quoted in Wheildon 1865: 79)[8]
“I have made another slight sketch of the obelisk you suggested. I have supposed that the monument would be enclosed by an iron fence and have sketched the frustums of pyramids, in the Egyptian style, at the angles, which may serve as accompaniments and also for a lodge, watch house, &c. The obelisk and base is as sketched before, with the addition of a broad platform and a subterranean entrance.
“It has always seemed to me that any of the three figures which have been proposed, if well designed, would make a respectable monument. The obelisk I have always preferred for its severe cast and its nearer approach to the simplicity of nature than the others. The column might be more splendid. The character of the obelisk, without a pedestal, seems to me to be strictly appropriate for the occasion and I think would rank first as a specimen of art and be highly creditable to the taste of the age.”



  1. George M. Goodwin, “The Gateway to Newport’s Jewish Cemetery,” Rhode Island History 67, no. 2 (Summer–Autumn 2009): 69, view on Zotero; Robert L. Alexander, The Architecture of Maximilian Godefroy(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 86n, 140, view on Zotero; William W. Wheildon, Memoir of Solomon Willard, Architect and Superintendent of the Bunker Hill Monument (Boston: Monument Association, 1865), 39, view on Zotero.
  2. Wheildon 1865, 38–41, view on Zotero.
  3. Solomon Willard, Plans and Sections of the Obelisk on Bunker’s Hill, with the Details of Experiments Made in Quarrying the Granite (Boston: Charles Cook, 1843), view on Zotero; Wheildon 1865, 107–128, view on Zotero; John A. Laukkanen, Quincy Quarries: Gold and Gloom (Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2004), 2, 16, view on Zotero.
  4. Jane Holtz Kay, Lost Boston (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), 129–32, view on Zotero; Wheildon 1865, 225–50, view on Zotero.
  5. Wheildon 1865, 227–28, view on Zotero; Edwin Monroe Bacon, Boston: A Guide Book to the City and Vicinity, rev. ed. (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1922), 66, view on Zotero.
  6. Goodwin 2009, 65, 68, view on Zotero; Blanche M. G. Linden, Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 93, 181, view on Zotero; Edward Warren, The Life of John Collins Warren, M.D., Compiled Chiefly from His Autobiography and Journals, 2 vols. (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860), 2:35–38, view on Zotero.
  7. Wheildon 1865, 240–41, view on Zotero.
  8. Wheildon 1865, view on Zotero.

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