Traveling down US 68/KY 80 from Bowling Green to Hopkinsville, first-timers may rub their eyes a bit when a giant obelisk that looks like the Washington Monument peaks over the trees in the horizon. Double-takes are certain for those who have never been through this part of southern Kentucky and have not seen the Jefferson Davis Monument.
Although it’s about 200 feet shorter than its look-alike in our nation’s capital, the Jefferson Davis Monument rises 351 feet from its base in the tiny hamlet of Fairview, Kentucky. The monument is a part of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, situated on the border of Christian and Todd counties.
It’s the tallest unreinforced concrete structure in the world. When construction began in 1917, no steel was used to reinforce the walls below the top. During the pouring of the concrete, large pieces of limestone were used to connect the walls between the pours.
The walls are a staggering 8.5 feet thick at its base tapering to 2.5 feet at the top. It weighs over 28 million pounds and took seven years to complete, including a delay of five years during World War I. The cost of the monument was $200,000, or about $3 million in today’s dollars.
Visitors can pay a small fee and ride the elevator to the top of the monument. Four open windows, one on each side of the pyramid, provides a beautiful view of the rural countryside below.
Located on site is a visitor’s center that features exhibits about Jefferson Davis and a gift shop.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America
Jefferson Davis was born on the property of the present-day Bethel Baptist Church, just to the east of the monument, in 1808. He was a brilliant man, having graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Ky. by the time he was 17. From there, he graduated from West Point in 1828.
Throughout the next few years Davis would serve in the military until he was arrested in 1834 for failing to make formation. He was later court-martialed. Shortly afterwards in 1835 he married Sarah Knox, but she died the same year with malaria. At that point, Davis became a recluse.
At the urging of his brother, Davis entered politics. He remarried in 1845 to Varina Howell and later that year held his first elected position in the US House of Representatives. He would return to his military roots the following year with his resignation from the House to help lead the Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War. Eventually he was appointed Secretary of War in 1853 under the Franklin Pierce administration.
Davis wrote a memoir shortly before his death in 1889. In that shared his beliefs that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. However, he encouraged his fellow Southerners to hold off on succession because he thought the North would declare war. Having served as Secretary of War, he also knew that the South lacked the resources necessary to defend itself in a war with the Union.
Regardless, in 1860, succession of the states began with South Carolina leading the way and Mississippi following suit. Davis resigned from the US Senate shortly afterwards, calling it “the saddest day of his life”, and went to Mississippi, where eventually he was appointed as President of the Confederate States of America.
After the Civil War, Davis was indicted for treason in 1866 but was released on $100,000 bail bond the next year. In 1869, the US Government dropped all charges against Jefferson Davis. He would spend the next 20 years of his life with various positions of finance and insurance and wrote book, including memoirs. He also traveled quite a bit to Europe looking for work.
Jefferson Davis passed away in 1889 in New Orleans at the age of 81, with his wife at his side.
While this is a short and underwhelming summary of Davis’ life, extensive information about him can be read online. Quite a bit has been written about his efforts during the Civil War and his life afterwards.
If you want to visit the Jefferson Davis Historic Monument and learn more about his contributions, check out the official website of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site.
Jefferson Davis State Historic Site
258 Pembroke-Fairview Rd.
Fairview, KY 42221