The majestically strange Stonehenge Memorial that stands on a bluff above the Columbia River Gorge, an iconic local replica of England’s ancient original, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The monument is the century-old brainchild of businessman, philanthropist, world traveler and road builder Samuel Hill (1857-1931). Hill’s near-identical recreation of the mysterious English circle of stones was built between 1918 and 1929 as a memorial to Klickitat County men who died in World War I.
While Hill supported the Allied cause, he was also a Quaker pacifist who saw his Stonehenge replica as a way to protest the “incredible folly” of war as well as to honor the lives of lost soldiers. That’s according to Wednesday’s announcement from the nearby Maryhill Museum of Art, which owns the memorial property.
The Stonehenge Memorial is free and open daily to visitors from dawn to dusk, off state Highway 14 near Maryhill State Park and Highway 97.
“The museum itself was placed on the National Register in 1974. We are beyond excited to now have Stonehenge Memorial listed as well,” said Colleen Schafroth, executive director of Maryhill Museum of Art.
“The designation recognizes Sam Hill’s singular vision and the enduring significance of the memorial as it relates to local, regional and national history.”
According to the museum, the altar stone dedication date of July 4, 1918 — more than four months before Armistice Day — makes Stonehenge at Maryhill one of the earliest World War I memorials in the nation.
A visit to England’s Stonehenge in April 1915, eight months after the start of World War I, inspired Hill to re-create the strange edifice in Klickitat County as his war memorial and protest.
But that inspiration was based on what turns out to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the prehistoric monument — that it was used by ancient barbarians for human sacrifices.
“Here the ancients 4,000 years ago offered bloody sacrifices to their heathen gods of war,” Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener reportedly told Hill, repeating a widespread, and erroneous, interpretation of the ancient site. Scientists now say Stonehenge appears to have been a ceremonial and burial site, but there is no evidence of human sacrifices there.
Hill envisioned his Stonehenge as a near-perfect replica of the original in scale, arrangement and orientation. He intended to use local stone, but eventually went with cast-in-place, steel-reinforced concrete. Hand-hewn stone was simulated by lining the wood forms of each concrete slab with crumbled sheets of tin.
The ancient Stonehenge isn’t a perfect astronomical calendar, and neither is Hill’s Stonehenge, according to the museum. Its latitude is 5 degrees different and it’s aligned to the astronomical horizon, which is obscured by surrounding hills, not to any sunrise.
The memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1929. The men honored at Stonehenge are: James Henry Allyn, Charles Auer, Dewey V. Bromley, John W. Cheshier, William O. Clary, Evan Childs, James D. Duncan, Harry Gotfredson, Robert F. Graham, Louis Leidl, Carl A. Lester, Edward Lindblad, Henry O. Piendl and Robert F. Venable. All were members of the American Expeditionary Force representing the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy.
Samuel Hill himself remains at the site. His granite crypt is just down the slope from the Stonehenge Memorial bluff, and his epitaph reads, “Samuel Hill: Amid nature’s great unrest, he sought rest.”
The National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Stonehenge Memorial was prepared by Architectural Resources Group, which also completed a conservation assessment and plan for the memorial’s future preservation.
The century-old concrete slabs need new capstones and weatherproofing, and the grounds need new trails, facilities and signage, Schafroth said.
“It’s a very important site to the county and the veterans as well as the day users and visitors who come because they love the view,” she said.