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History of Early American Landscape Design

Solomon Willard

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

Largely self taught, Willard was a polymath who devoted himself to a wide range of pursuits, including carpentry, sculpture, architecture, geology, chemistry, and agriculture. From 1810 to 1818, Willard sought professional opportunities in the mid-Atlantic region, where he met and worked with a number of prominent architects. He 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] and 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 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 15-foot obelisk for the monument to John Harvard (1607-1638) in the Phipps Street Burial Ground in Charleston (1828) [5] and a 25-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] Around 1840, Willard laid out the grounds of the Hall Place cemetery in Quincy and erected a 30-ton column there, reportedly depositing a set of stonecutter's tools in the top of the shaft. [7]

--Robyn Asleson


Bunker Hill 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 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, Mass.: The 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, Mass.: Charles Cook, 1843), view on Zotero; Wheildon, 1865, 107-28, view on Zotero; John A. Laukkanen, Quincy Quarries: Gold and Gloom (Victoria, B.C.: 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, (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1922, rev. ed.), 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, see also 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. Zukowsky, John. 1976. “Monumental American Obelisks: Centennial Vistas.” Art Bulletin 58, no.4 (December): 574–581. view on Zotero

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