The Most Popular Monuments In America

mt rushmore

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This post originally appeared at Travel + Leisure.Which former president greets nearly six million people a year? Well, it’s not George W. Bush or George Washington, but if you guessed Abraham Lincoln, you’re correct. The Lincoln Memorial is America’s most popular monument by far.

It’s certainly not the only one of America’s most-visited national monuments to be located in our nation’s capital; you can check several off your to-do list with a vacation to D.C.

Click here to see the monuments >
Yet there are noteworthy monuments across the country, from Charleston to St. Louis to San Diego, that make an easy weekend getaway or road trip. Most are free, and they can be profound gathering places, even for events that happened more than a century ago.

Patriotism is a dominant theme among these monuments, as is remembrance of wars. But our list also contains surprises, such as a remote anthropological site and Castillo de San Marcos—hardly a household name. The better-known Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s Last Stand, didn’t make the cut, even with 312,000 visitors in 2011. Nor did Grant’s Tomb, which had a third as many visitors, or the venerable Washington Monument, which was closed for repairs from earthquake damage in August 2011.

Each of these monuments acknowledges part of our collective heritage as Americans. Their visitor numbers reflect our priorities as travellers and citizens—as well as the curiosity of foreign tourists. Why not see them for yourself?

The Methodology: The National Park Service defines national monuments as being intended to preserve a nationally significant resource. This broad definition includes wilderness areas such as Muir Woods, fossil sites, historic forts, ruins, statues, the battlefield at Gettysburg, and buildings such as Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot.

While these are all extraordinary sights, we narrowed our focus to the more commonly understood concept of monuments as statues, buildings, or other structures erected to commemorate a famous or notable person or event. For 2011 visitor statistics, we turned to the National Park Service, which manages many monuments and keeps accurate counts. In other cases, we relied on the administrators of a given monument or memorial to provide visitation numbers.

#10 Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Annual Visitors: 1,945,696

In a columned rotunda styled after the Pantheon in Rome stands a 19-foot-high bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, whose achievements include authoring the Declaration of Independence and serving as George Washington's secretary of state, John Adams's vice president, and America's third president. Built on land reclaimed from the Potomac River, the Jefferson Memorial was laid out by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had all the trees cut down between the memorial and the White House so that he could glimpse it whenever he desired. nps.gov/thje

Source: Travel + Leisure

#9 Mount Rushmore, Keystone, SD

Annual Visitors: 2,081,722

No matter how many times you've seen Mount Rushmore--whether in commercials, on postcards, or in Hitchcock'sNorth by Northwest, in which Cary Grant actually clambers over the monument--it's still surreal and special when you spy those four towering heads in person. The visages of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are 60 feet high, carved on a mountainside by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers over 14 years. nps.gov/moru

Source: Travel + Leisure

#8 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis

Annual Visitors: 2,259,017

This is the official name for St. Louis's most recognisable landmark: The Gateway Arch, which rises 630 feet as designed by Modernist architect Eero Saarinen. It not only underlines the city's role in the Westward Expansion of the United States (the Lewis and Clark Expedition began and ended here, in the early 19th century), but it also acknowledges Thomas Jefferson's initiative in opening the West. nps.gov/jeff

Source: Travel + Leisure

#7 FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C.

#6 Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

#5 Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia

#4 Statue of Liberty, New York/New Jersey

Annual Visitors: 3,749,982

No monument conveys the idea of America better than the Statue of Liberty. It was a beacon of hope for the millions of immigrants who sailed by it as they approached nearby Ellis Island. The 152-foot statue--a gift from France to celebrate a shared belief in freedom and liberty--was designed by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi with the engineering help of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Unveiled on October 28, 1886, it still welcomes nearly 4 million annual visitors. nps.gov/stli

Source: Travel + Leisure

#3 World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.

#2 Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Annual Visitors: 4,020,127

The monument is deceptively simple: two long walls of black granite in the shape of a V. On each wall is inscribed the names of the nearly 60,000 men and women who gave their lives, or are missing in action, in America's longest war, which ended in 1975. (Names continue to be added as remains are found in Vietnam to this day.) Designed by artist Maya Lin and erected in 1982, the two walls are angled to point to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Watching visitors trace the inscriptions with a fingertip--and maybe even discover a loved one's name--makes it one of America's most poignant monuments. nps.gov/vive

Source: Travel + Leisure

#1 Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

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