Solomon Willard

Historical photo of a burying ground with an granite gate and headstones in the background.
Willard designed and quarried the granite gate of the Granary Burying Ground, Boston (1840).

Burial Ground, Tremont St. Griffin Museum,; protected by copyright laws.

Quick Facts
Architect and Superintendent of the Bunker Hill Monument
Place of Birth:
Petersham, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
June 26, 1783
Place of Death:
Quincy, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
February 27, 1861

"Posterity should know that it is more indebted to Solomon Willard than any other person for the possession of this grand memorial."1
- Amos Lawrence, member of the Bunker Hill Monument Association and a major financial contributor to building the Monument.

The Boston architect, Solomon Willard, was the undisputed builder of the Bunker Hill Monument. This huge granite obelisk honors the Battle of Bunker Hill and today the Boston National Historical Park stewards the Monument in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston. The Bunker Hill Monument Association (BHMA) hired Willard in 1825 to be the Architect and Superintendent of the Monument. The BHMA, a patriotic citizens group, asked Willard to design and build the Monument. He performed his job beyond their expectations.

The Architect

Born in central Massachusetts, Solomon Willard grew up the youngest of eleven children in a modest farming family. His formal education ended with grammar school. In 1804 at age 21, Solomon Willard moved to Boston to pursue a career in the building trades. Within five years, he had his own carpentry and wood carving business. He helped other tradesmen by teaching them building skills. By 1811, Willard could also make architectural drawings and wooden scale models used in building construction. He mostly taught himself these skills, learning from books and associates.

Over the following years, Willard travelled several times to New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC to meet with notable architects and work at their construction sites. In 1818 while in Washington DC, Willard made scale models of the still-developing U.S. Capitol for Charles Bulfinch (Third Architect of the Capitol). By 1820, Willard had a stable career as an architect having designed many different buildings around Boston, including the United States Branch Bank in 1824, constructed of granite. He also devised unique coal-fired heating systems for his buildings.

When the BHMA hired Willard in 1825, plans for the Bunker Hill Monument were still sketchy. Not until two years later in 1827 did construction of the Bunker Hill Monument begin. By then Willard had secured a vital component of the project, a granite quarry in Quincy, Massachusetts. He found this quarry had particularly dense and gray-colored granite.

The Quarryman

Willard moved to Quincy to be near the quarry since most of the work of the Bunker Hill Monument would take place there. Under his watchful eye, workers quarried, shaped, smoothed and transported the Monument's 3,000 large and small granite blocks. Stacking the granite blocks into the shape of an obelisk in Charlestown, eleven miles north of Quincy, was the least time-consuming part of building the Bunker Hill Monument.

The BHMA and Willard thought the Bunker Hill Monument could be built in two years, but it instead took fifteen years. For two separate six-year periods, the BHMA stopped work on the Monument due to lack of money. Although Willard's expert management saved money, the BHMA still underestimated the cost of the Monument, which was $120,000 or around $4 million today.

When the BHMA halted work on the Monument, Willard took on other building projects around Boston and New York City. The most notable of his Boston-area endeavors were the Suffolk County Courthouse and the Quincy City Hall.

Solomon Willard specialized in incorporating large granite blocks in building construction. He pioneered the use of huge one-piece granite columns for buildings in the Greek-Revival style, such as the columns of the Boston Custom House. He also invented the tools to move these large pieces of granite. Being a tall, burly, and careful person made Willard well suited to the demands of stone quarrying and he was known locally as the "Father of the Granite Industry."2

The Public Servant

Willard and his team completed the Bunker Hill Monument in 1842. In his early 60s at this time, he continued to quarry granite for new buildings for a few more years. The versatile Willard then turned to road building to improve Quincy's roads and completed an elementary school for the children of the town's granite workers.

Solomon Willard died in 1861 at 77 years old. He is buried in the Hall Cemetery in Quincy; his grave is appropriately marked nearby with a gigantic unfinished granite column quarried by Willard. In 1865, the Bunker Hill Monument Association commissioned William W. Wheildon to write The Memoir of Solomon Willard to chronicle Willard's career.

Willard was a talented and potentially prosperous builder, yet he never sought riches and often offered his services for free. During his eighteen-year commitment to the Bunker Hill Monument, Willard asked the BHMA for a mere $500 annual salary for his expenses. Willard felt it was his patriotic duty to build the Monument. He could have asked for at least four times that amount, the going rate for such services at the time.

No portrait exists of Solomon Willard. This hard-working man likely thought sitting for a portrait was a frivolous waste of time. Willard never married and left behind few assets. He did leave behind the Bunker Hill Monument, an extraordinary edifice for that era. Willard harnessed new mechanical innovations in the service of his art and patriotism to the benefit of all. In the process he inaugurated the use of giant blocks of granite in American building construction.


  1. William W. Wheildon, Memoir of Solomon Willard, Architect and Superintendent of the Bunker Hill Monument (Boston, MA: Printed by Direction of the Monument Association, 1865), 203.
  2. Dr. James R. Cameron, "Solomon Willard," Quincy History, no. 29 (Spring 1993): 2.


Kilham, Walter H.. Boston After Bulfinch, An Account of its Architecture 1800-1900. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946.

"The Work of Charles Bulfinch, Architect," Government Printing Office. Accessed September 2022.

"Quincy Quarries Historic Site." Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Accessed September 2022.

Warren, George W.. The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association During the First Century of the US. Boston, MA: James R Osgood and Co., 1877.

Wheildon, William W.. Memoir of Solomon Willard, Architect and Superintendent of the Bunker Hill Monument. Boston, MA: Printed by Direction of the Monument Association, 1865.

Boston National Historical Park

Last updated: January 23, 2024