Washington Monument

Above: The Washington Monument, uncompleted without capstone, from the Department of Agriculture building, circa 1880. Source: LOC. Photo right: World War II Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Almost from the moment the streets of Washington, D.C. were laid out by L'Enfant and the stones for the foundation of the White House placed, you could feel the history of the United States forming from the soil that surrounded each building. Rising along the Potomac River would come the Capitol Building, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Monument, and the myriad of other monuments, memorials, museums, and government buildings both around the National Mall and beyond. And they continued to grow, including embassies from around the world to fountained gardens and tidal basins of water and marble. There is so much to do in the dizzying array of historic buildings, museums, and monuments that it seems almost impossible to do them all.

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Smithsonian Institution

Washington Then

White House - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where the President of the United States has lived since the year 1800 days of John Adams. The White House may be visited by tourists, although tickets are limited and must be ordered in advance of your arrival from your Congressmen. There is a visitor center there for others, as well as the view from behind the gates along Pennsylvania Avenue, which is currently blocked from traffic due to the fear of terrorism.

Capitol Building - The majestic hall of government is open to visitation daily, except Sunday, for tours. Of course, it is also the site during sessions of the House of Representatives and Senate where the laws of Congress are debated and passed. Many office buildings surround the structure, housing the offices of the various office holders.

Smithsonian Institution - What started out as an ornate structure (now serving as the visitor center) to house the museum pieces of a nation has now grown into a series of museums stretching along the mall, as well as other locations. From the Arts and Industries Building to the Air and Space Museum, from the Museum of the American Indian to the Museum of Natural History, plus many more. Each of these museum can take several hours to visit.

Washington, D.C. Dates of Importance

October 13, 1792 - The cornerstone for the White House, the oldest federal building in the city, is set, two years after the Residence Act authorizes President Washington to choose the site for the capital along the Potomac River. President Adams moves into the White House in 1800.

1814 - The Capitol buildings in burned by the British during the War of 1812.

1848 - The construction of the Washington Monument starts. It would not be completed until 1885.

1855 - Built from the bequest of James Smithson, the original home of the Smithsonian Institution, known as the castle today, was completed.

1902 - The McMillan Commission proposes a reflecting pool west of the Washington Monument, a memorial to Lincoln, as well as other changes to Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall.

1932 - Supreme Court building completed.

April 13, 1943 - Jefferson Memorial is dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, completing the fourth axis at the southern terminus of the national mall.

May 29, 2004 - World War II Memorial dedicated, eleven years after it was authorized by Congress.

Photo above: Photo above: The original Smithsonian Castle building, now serving as the Visitor Center. Photo below: Rear steps of the Capitol Building on the National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Washington Now

And you would need the better part of a week to do that, but the beauty of the locations of most of these grand patriotic attractions is there proximity to the National Mall and its two simple axis. From the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial from east to west sit the many buildings of the Smithsonian Institution, the monuments to Washington, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Lincoln Memorial and more. From the White House to the Jefferson Memorial on a north to south axis that also includes the Washington Monument congregate another collection, including the Tidal Basin and the new FDR Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

Washington is our nation's capitol today, and has been for over two hundred years following short stints in Philadelphia, New York, and York. It's purpose upon creation in 1790 was to serve as the headquarters of the government, which, with the grand collection of office buildings that dot the streets just off and on the mall, goes to prove that point for certain. And for many people who use Washington as their home, or temporary home, or even to visit, it is in those halls of government that they visit. For others on vacation or visiting, it is the museums and monuments that draw most of their attention. Washington, D.C., particularly during the week, is a very busy place. Weekends less so, since most of the government buildings are not conducting business during those days. Parking is at a premium and the rules strictly enforced. It is often suggested that you visit Washington by taking the Metro into one of the convenient stations to the National Mall and use Circular Bus around the Mall to ferry you from one building to the next. You may board it as many times as you like during the day. Other buses also provide this service. However, there is parking available along the streets (many are 1 hour weekdays, 3 hours weekends) and in lots (all day) to the south of the Jefferson Memorial. There is a lot of walking to do no matter whether you take the bus or park, and finding a parking spot right next to some attractions is hard to find. Some day this should be corrected by the park service to accommodate those who find walking difficult. Some handicap spaces do exist.

You could spend a day or a week moving in and out of the various buildings or taking a ranger tour of one of the monuments there. In summer, most monuments and memorials have guided walks (free of charge) four times per day. Check at the visitor information centers near each location for the specific times and topics. Our nation's capitol, Washington, D.C. is a must for any tourist who loves the country and our history.

Washington Monument - The first built monument to the nation's first president looms over the skyline of the District of Columbia from all points. It is located in the center of the National Mall's two axis. You may climb the steps of the monument (timed tickets are required and available on the first come, first served basis.

World War II Memorial - One of the newest of the monuments in Washington and to us, one of the most spectacular. It is still wondered why it took so long to build a monument to the 16 million men and women who served in uniform for the United States in World War II, and the selection of the location between the Washington and Lincoln memorial was a constroversial spot. However, there is little no controversy about it now. With two large fountains and a respectful design that evokes the pride and sacrifice made during that time, it sits as a reminder of the valor exhibited by all who endured the hardships of war necessary to keep of freedoms intact. Over 50 million people died across the globe in World War II, including 400,000 Americans.

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Washington Monument and Tidal Basin

Washington, D.C.

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Although it is nearly impossibe not to do a whole lot of walking while visiting the nation's capitol, no matter the mode of transportation you choose, don't forget to take the time to join a ranger tour at any one of the monuments, memorials, of at the Capitol Building. These tours give you a perspective on the place and its importance to the nation that is hard to get from any exhibit or film on the subject. We may know of the men or war that are honored there, but the story of each one of them and of the monument that holds their place in history high is greatly enhanced by the park rangers that tell each story, whether it be the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at one of the newer memorials, or the story of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil Rights Movement that used his monument as such a prominent place it its struggle.

2. Behind the Smithsonian Castle, the original 1855 building of the complex that stretches now on both sides of the National Mall, visit the Haupt Gardens as well as the other gardens along the promenade. You may not think of Washington, D.C. as a place of botanic pleasure, but these spaces amongst the bustle are great places to walk through. The Botanic Gardens themselves are on the north side near the Capitol Building, but they are only one of many gardens, fountains, and plazas the provide beautiful outdoor pleasure to the surroundings.

3. Even though at first thought, it may seem like an odd location for such a museum, the United States Holacaust Memorial Museum, is a must see for anyone who is visiting Washington. It is an important look at the horror of World War II and the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler who caused such a tragedy. You will need a timed ticket for entrance (free of charge) and the walk through the films, sounds, and exhibits, which include shoes from the victims, a rail car like that used for transport, and the cobblestone from the streets of the Warsaw ghetto. It is a depressing topic, no doubt, and the feeling you have when existing will not be good, (almost nobody talked while viewing) but this museum is an important reminder for anyone over the age of 12 of what went on for the Jewish people during Hitler's reign of terror and how important it is to make certain actions like that never happen again. The Holacaust Museum is located south of the Washington Monument on the walk to the Jefferson Memorial.

Photo above: Washington Monument in the distance from the opposite side of the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

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