In a region where the tallest structure you’re likely to see is a large barn, it’s striking to see a massive stone obelisk rising over the Green Mountains of southwestern Vermont. Closer inspection will reveal this imposing structure is known as the Bennington Battle Monument. But why is it here to begin with? Let’s take a closer look at how this little-known architectural and historical attraction came to be.
The Battle of Bennington – August 16th, 1777
This gigantic stone monolith commemorates a noteworthy battle near the northernmost reaches of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Bennington took place in August 1777, as British troops under General John Burgoyne led a strategy to try to cut off New England from the other colonies. Burgoyne sent part of his forces to the small town of Bennington on a mission to seize horses and supplies for the struggling British army. Local militias organized to fight back, leading British commander Friedrich Baum to request reinforcements. The Americans were led by General John Stark, already a hero from the Battle of Bunker Hill, with a Continental Army regiment and militiamen totaling nearly 2,000 troops.
On August 16th, the Americans used a break in the rainy weather to attack the British position, located on a hilltop. Before leading the charge, Stark is said to have told his soldiers, “There are the Red Coats; they will be ours, or tonight Molly Stark sleeps a widow.” Within a few hours, the Americans had breached the British position and sent them into a scrambling retreat. A second group of British forces nearly pushed the Americans back after the initial fighting but were defeated by the famous Green Mountain Boys.
The results of the Battle of Bennington were lopsided – more than 200 British dead or seriously hurt and 700 more captured, compared to just 70 American casualties. What might have been a minor skirmish with disorganized Vermont militiamen turned into an engagement that seriously damaged Burgoyne’s momentum and contributed to his ill-equipped army’s defeat two months later at Saratoga.
How Tall Is the Bennington Battle Monument?
Very tall! To be more specific, the Bennington Battle Monument is precisely 306 feet, 4.5 inches tall. By comparison, the Washington Monument tops out at 555 feet, 5.125 inches in height. However, the Bennington Battle Monument is built on a hilltop with an elevation of approximately 866 above sea level. Therefore, its tip actually reaches more than 1,170 feet above sea level – far higher than the Washington Monument’s peak of less than 600 feet above sea level, including the elevation of its base.
The monument’s observation deck is located approximately 175 feet above the ground, providing unbelievable views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. On clear days, you can see three different states – Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts.
When Was the Bennington Battle Monument Built?
The Bennington Battle Monument is over 130 years old! Plans to create a monument to the pivotal and little-known battle began in 1876, with the nation’s centennial celebration. However, it took more than a decade to raise the necessary funds. Construction began in 1888, primarily using magnesian limestone from the Hudson Falls, NY, area. Three years later, it was finished. Tens of thousands of people, including U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, showed up for the dedication on August 19th, 1891, just over 113 years after the battle was fought. For ten cents, visitors could brave the 412 steps to the viewing area. Don’t worry. There’s an elevator these days.
Seeing the Bennington Battle Monument
The top thing to do when visiting the Bennington Battle Monument is to go up to the monument’s observation deck. Admission is $5 for adults and just $1 for kids age 6-14. Younger children are free. Visitors can also check out a historically accurate diorama depicting the Battle of Bennington, as well as historical items like a kettle used by General Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga. There are also a variety of other smaller statues and monuments spread throughout the grounds depicting heroes of the battle. You can also grab a souvenir or some local items at the nearby gift shop.
Other Things To Do In Bennington, VT
If you’re looking to make a full day out of your trip to Bennington, there are some other great options beyond the monument.
1. Covered Bridges
Covered bridges were once a defining feature of quaint small towns throughout the northeast, but these days they’re few and far between. However, Bennington is lucky enough to be home to or located close to several historic bridges. Some of them include the Silk Road and Paper Mill covered bridges, as well as the Burt Henry Covered Bridge, pictured above. With just a short drive between them, it’s a great way to spend a few hours snapping photos and imagining what life was like in small-town Bennington in an era gone by.
2. Old First Church
The first Protestant church established in Vermont, the Old First Church certainly lives up to its name. While the congregation dates back to pre-Revolutionary War times, the current church building was constructed in 1805. Renovations in the late 1990s helped restore the church to some of its original glory. Distinctive touches include columns hand-planed from whole trees and wall plaques recognizing noteworthy Vermonters. Among these is poet Robert Frost, who is buried in the historic graveyard out back in a family plot.
Some graves date back more than two hundred years and range from simple markers to ornate monuments. The setting, nestled on a gently sloping hill, is the kind of peaceful New England setting fit for a final resting place.
3. The Bennington Museum
Looking to learn more about this beautiful, wild region? Head to the Bennington Museum on Main Street. Through a combination of art, historical items and documents, and other exhibits, you’ll learn about everything from original Native American inhabitants to some of the region’s most notable events and people. The museum costs $12 for adults but is free for anyone 17 and under.
How To Get To the Bennington Battle Monument
Address: 15 Monument Cir, Bennington, VT 05201
By Car: As should be obvious from the maps above, Bennington isn’t in the middle of nowhere – but it’s also not far from it, either. The closest medium-sized city is Albany, NY, about 40 miles and an hour’s drive away. Visiting from Boston, MA will take 3-3.5 hours to complete the roughly 160-mile drive. Bennington lies along Vermont Route 9, the primary east-west state highway in the southern part of the Green Mountain State, which also crosses through quaint towns like Brattleboro and over the scenic Hogback Mountain. Those approaching from western Massachusetts or Connecticut can also take US Route 7, which passes directly through the town.
Free parking is available at the monument whether or not you pay to go up to the observation deck. However, there are a relatively limited number of spaces, meaning you may have to wait a few minutes on busier days.
Is the Bennington Battle Monument Worth Visiting?
Bennington isn’t most people’s idea of a vacation destination. It isn’t the easiest place to get to, nor does it have all the attractions of bigger or more established cities in southern Vermont and the surrounding region. Still, it’s a fascinating spot for those already in the area or passing through, if for no other reason than its striking visual presence in an otherwise tree-covered mountainside. Plus, the views can’t be beat!