National Mall

The Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial Dedication Birds Eye

To the average visitor, the Lincoln Memorial appears to be a timeless part of the National Mall. However, this classical commemoration to the sixteenth president was dedicated less than one hundred years ago, in the presence of Civil War veterans, Robert Todd Lincoln, two Presidents and a crowd of thousands. 

The Silent Majority Storm The National Mall

With Bible in hand, the Rev. Carl McIntire and his wife, Fairy McIntire, lead the "March for Victory" on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., April 6, 1970. McIntire said his parade was a demonstration for military victory in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

The Vietnam era was marked by student anti-war protests and the counterculture movement. But in 1970 the "silent majority" organized the era's largest pro-war demonstration, simultaneously protesting against President Nixon's Vietnam War policies and "hippies and yippies everywhere."

Tractors in front of the Capitol

Tractorcade 1979

In February 1979, thousands of farmers from across the country — and their tractors — barreled into Washington to protest in favor of agriculture policy reform. They snarled traffic for several weeks, frustrating commuters. But public opinion began to shift when an unexpected blizzard buried the city under two feet of snow and the protesters took it upon themselves to plow city streets and ferry doctors and nurses to work.

Baltimore & Pennsylvania Railroad station. (Source: National Gallery of Art archives)

The Short-Lived Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station on the National Mall

It may be hard to picture now, but the National Mall was once home to a lot of commercial and industrial development. Perhaps the most notable -- if also maligned -- site was a railroad station belonging to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad. The station itself embraced a Gothic architectural style, but the train shed that extended from the station was considered an eyesore. It proved to be one (of many) motivations behind the 1901 McMillan plan to beautify and renovate America's front yard.

Cooling Off in the Tidal Basin

Swimmers of all ages enjoy the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach in 1922. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

The National Building Museum’s new indoor beach may be making headlines, but it’s not D.C.’s first seashore. For a period of time between 1918 and 1925, Washingtonians dipped into the Tidal Basin to experience some summertime heat relief. Now I know what you’re thinking: you couldn’t pay me to swim in that water today. But with a serious lack of public pools, and no air conditioning, citizens back then were pretty desperate.

Impressions of Washington: “An overgrown, tattered village”

 

Not surprisingly, our nation’s capital has undergone some pretty radical changes since its beginning. 160 years ago, the landscape of the National Mall and surrounding streets looked vastly different than it does today. We’re talking an armory, one museum, the Washington Monument and not much else.

Speaking to the Historical Society in 1901, Presbyterian minister and Chaplain of the Senate Byron Sunderland described the Washington he remembered in the mid nineteenth century.

Two bison in front of the Smithsonian Castle, downtown Washington, D.C., circa 1880's. The bison were used as models for Smithsonian Institution taxidermists and were part of the Live Animal Collection, forerunner to the National Zoo. (Photo source: Smithsonian Archives)

Happy Birthday, National Zoo!

On March 2, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation establishing a zoological park along Rock Creek in Northwest Washington “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” But, of course, the backstory began years before.

Prior to the creation of the Zoo park, the Smithsonian kept a large collection of animals in pens and cages on the National Mall. Washingtonians flocked to see the motley collection which included a jaguar, grizzly bear, lynx and buffalo.

Buffalo grazing on the National Mall! Can you imagine?

Pages