Honoring General William Jenkins Worth (1794–1849), and dating to 1857, this site is the second oldest major monument in the parks of New York City.
Worth was born on March 1, 1794 in the hamlet of Hudson, New York. His parents were Quakers, and his father, Thomas, was a seaman and “one of the original proprietors of Hudson.” After a common school education, Worth worked briefly at a store in Hudson before moving to Albany to pursue a mercantile career. With the outbreak of the War of 1812 he enlisted in the army and was appointed first lieutenant, 23d Infantry on March 19, 1813.
During the war he was an aide-de-camp to General Winfield Scott and at the battle of Lundy’s Lane was wounded so severely that he almost died. He was made a captain for his valor at Chippewa, and awarded the rank of major for his deeds at Niagara. After the war, though not a graduate of the United States Military Academy, Worth served as its fourth commandant of cadets at West Point.
For ten years of military service Worth was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1824 and became colonel of the Eighth Infantry in 1838, during the Seminole Wars. For his gallantry in these military engagements he was appointed brigadier-general by President James Knox Polk (1795-1849). Though a victorious commander in Florida, Worth urged that the Seminoles be allowed to live in peace, and maintain certain territorial rights.
Worth was also active in the Mexican-American War (1846-48), taking part in all of the engagements from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. He was given his highest rank, major-general, in 1846, and assumed the governorship of Puebla. Following the war Worth commanded the army’s Department of Texas and while there died of cholera on May 17, 1849.
Throughout his life Worth was a respected military tactician, and his writings have been required reading for generations of cadets at West Point. The recipient of a Congressional Sword of Honor, the frontier post he manned became the metropolis of Fort Worth, Texas. Lake Worth, Florida, and Worth Street in Manhattan are also named in his honor. After Worth’s death, his body was temporarily interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, before being buried on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1857, at the monument’s location at the intersection of Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 25th Street. The burial followed an elaborate processional, which included 6,500 soldiers. A relic box was placed in the cornerstone, and Mayor Fernando Wood delivered the principal oration.
The Worth Monument was designed by James Goodwin Batterson, who founded Travelers Insurance Company, and was also involved in the design and construction of the United States Capitol and Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., as well as the New York State Capitol in Albany. The monument consists of a central, 51 foot-high obelisk of Quincy granite with decorative bands inscribed with battle sites significant in Worth’s career. On the front is attached a bronze equestrian relief of Worth, a decorative shield and ornament. On the back is a large bronze dedicatory plaque. Four corner granite piers (which once held decorative lampposts) support an elaborate ornamental cast-iron fence whose pickets are replicas of Worth’s Congressional Sword of Honor and which has an oak swag motif. The north side fence was removed around 1940 to accommodate an above ground utility shed which services the water supply system pipes beneath the monument.
In 1941 the City restored the monument. In 1995, the monument again underwent an extensive restoration funded mainly by the Paul & Klara Porzelt Foundation and U.S. Navy Commander (Ret.) James A. Woodruff Jr., Worth’s great-great grandson. He and his family have endowed the maintenance of the monument and surrounding planting bed, through the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument Program.
General William Jenkins Worth Monument Details
- Architect: James Goodwin Batterson
- Description: Obelisk decorated with applied trophy, die decorated with high relief panel, graduated base; tomb, two plaques, ornamented fence (three sides only), four gas lamp posts
- Materials: Obelisk (and tomb?)--Quincy (Massachusetts) granite; trophy, high relief, plaques--bronze; fence--cast iron
- Dimensions: Obelisk H: 51'; base L: 15' W: 15'; each side of fence 35'2"
- Cast: ca. 1857
- Dedicated: November 25, 1857
- Donor: Corporation of the City of New York