The monumental task was launched in
January, 1898, with Bishop Wigger turning the first spadeful of
soil. Construction of the foundations, piers and basement walls
soon began, and work progressed so rapidly that Bishop Wigger set
June 11, 1899, as the date for the laying of the cornerstone. More
than fifty thousand people lined the streets to observe the parade
to the Cathedral site, where an excess of one hundred thousand had
gathered to watch the cornerstone laying ceremony.
O'Rourke immediately directed his attention
to the erection of the walls and towers, selecting Vermont Rockport
granite as the exterior stone. Joining O'Rourke in the fall of 1899
was the Newark firm of E.M Waldron and Company, which would handle
the responsibilities of general contractor. By April 1902, the walls
stood fifty feet at the nave and ambulatory locations, with the first
four tiers of the front towers under construction.
Construction of the facade
Bishop Wigger did not live to see
this stage completed, however, having died on January 5, 1901. His
successor, Bishop John O'Connor, instructed O'Rourke to continue
on but to cut cost wherever possible so as not to exceed the estimated
price tag of one million dollars.