One of America’s most international, vibrant and culturally diverse cities!
A Little Bit of Background
Washington D.C. (District of Columbia) was founded on July 16, 1790 after Maryland and Virginia ceded land to the new “district”. Washington D.C. was designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant and sits along the Potomac and Anacosta Rivers. Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed D.C. on a grid system with the Capitol placed in the middle. Pierre Charles L’Enfant wanted a bold and modern feel with grand boulevards and ceremonial spaces reminiscent of Paris.
Before D.C. was even finished being built, the War of 1812 destroyed the city. Enemy forces invaded the city and burned most of what was standing to the ground. The White House, Capitol, and Library of Congress went crumbling and many original books were burned. The damaged city caused many of the residents to flee and a section of the city that originally belonged to Virginia was retroceded in 1847. Eventually, Washington D.C. expand again post Civil War and for a short period of time it was a hub for freed slaves. By 1901 the city proposed the McMillan Plan which set out to fully complete L’Enfant’s original design.
Where the Washington Mall stands now is where tidal flats and marshes were located. After those areas were gradually filled, the National Mall was officially extended in the 20th century to the Lincoln Memorial. In 1850 NY horticulturist Andrew Jackson Downing was commissioned to landscape the National Mall. His design called for curving carriage dries amid a grove of American evergreens. By the 1900 the National Mall had deteriorated and all what was left was a railroad station with sheds, tracks and piles of coal. Two years later, work had begun to implement L’Enfant’s early concept.
Navigating the Mall
The best way to learn as much as possible about D.C. in a short period of time is to hire a local tour guide. There is so much to see and so much do that in order to do the entire Mall you will need at least 4 full days. If you’re a nerd, history junky, amateur researcher or genius, I suggest visiting for at least a week and a half, especially for those who want to walk the entire mall, visit all the monuments, and go in and out of all the Smithsonian museums. If you are the “slow” person in your group who everyone gets annoyed at because you spend forever reading every last word in every single exhibit or you are the person who loves to stop and take pictures, you will need at least a full day in each museum. Realistically, you could spend an entire week in each museum due to the mass size and information the museums hold.
If you are a photographer, don’t lug around a gigantic bag of camera equipment. You will have to go through security to get into every building and you won’t be able to bring in loads of camera equipment and certainly not a tripod.
I guarantee you are not going to be able to do the entire the loop in a day unless you are an olympic speed walker and don’t take time to look at the monuments. As long as you can see the Washington Monument from where you are standing you can not get lost, maybe unless you are drunk. If you are standing at the Washington Monument the US Capitol is facing East, the White House is facing north North, the Lincoln Memorial is facing West, the Jefferson Memorial is facing South.
People often say you should go to D.C. in the Spring to see the cherry blossoms or in Autumn when it is bit cooler and the kids are back to school and the crowds start to die down. March – July is peak season so be ready to deal with mass groups of people you will have to push through. August – November is nice because you get to see the Autumn leaves change and the air starts to drastically change to cold and dry. December – February is quite cold but not so cold you can’t walk around outside for a bit. If you can tolerate dry and cold weather than definitely visit D.C. in the Winter for some snowy pics.
District of Columbia Map
D.C. has one of the best underground train systems. It is fast, reliable, on time, easy to navigate, and very clean. The Metro System has 6 colored lines that are easily marked on all the metro maps, in the stations, and on the trains. The most popular stops for the National Mall are ‘Arlington Cemetery’, ‘Pentagon’, ‘Metro Center’, ‘Federal Triangle’, ‘Smithsonian’, ‘Archieves’, ‘LEnfant Plaza’, and ‘Capitol South’. If you are looking for something to eat that is near the Mall, get off at ‘L’Enfant Plaza’.
The mall takes a long time to walk around and the buildings and monuments are farther apart than they look on a map. The Circulator System is a bus system that transports people in and around the Mall. You can check online when the next bus will arrive at each stop. You will only be charged $1 every time you hop on the bus.
D.C. has a few Bikeshare stations where you can pay a small fee to rent a bike and return it to a station when you are done. If you just want to do the monuments and not go into the museums, this is the quickest way to get around the Mall.
Download a scooter app and zip away. Lime, Bird, and Jump are the 3 big scooter companies in D.C.. You can not park them in the Mall.
The Smithsonian consists of 19 museums, galleries, National Zoo and numerous of research centers. The Smithsonian is involved in pressing issues involving science, education, and concerns of national identity. The Smithsonian consists of laboratories, observatories, field stations, scientific expeditions, classrooms, performing arts events, publications, affiliate museums, the world’s largest traveling exhibition service, a cable television channel, web sites, blogs and much more. There are over 138 million artifacts, work of art, and scientific specimens.
Smithsonian Museums List
- The Castle
2. National Air and Space Museum
3. National Museum of Natural History
4. National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
5. National Museum of The American Indian
6. National Museum of African American History and Culture
7.Freer Gallery of Art
8. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
9. National Museum of African Art
10. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
11. National Postal Museum
12. National Portrait Gallery (Part of the Donal w. Reynolds Center)
13. Smithsonian American Art museum (Part of the Donal w. Reynolds Center)
14. Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Part of the Donal w. Reynolds Center)
15. Anacostia Community Museum
16. National Zoological Park
17. National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
18. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
19. National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center
Washington D.C. Monument
The Washington Monument was establisehd Janurary 31, 1848 and opened to the public in 1888. The Monument stood 555 1/8 feet tall and consists of 50 flights of stairs. The building weights 81,000 tons. No building in Washington D.C. is allowed to be taller than the Washington Monument.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress was created by Congress in 1800 and is a major research arm of the US Congress place where the nation’s political and literary cultures intersect. It is the nation’s copyright agency and worlds largest library. In the beginning years, the library was underfunded and its primary function was to serve the Congress and only secondarily make popular literature accessible to the general public. Ainsworth Rand Spofford, leader of the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897 appealed to a growing cultural nationalism and planned to turn the Library of Congress into a national library. It wasn’t until 1897 the Library of Congress moved from the US Capitol into its own building, a structure that is located east of the Capitol. Today it is known as the Jefferson Building and is a symbol of classical learning and American cultural nationalism. Here you will find original works from American Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, abolitionists, lawyers, and many more.
The building consists of a 23 carat gold plated dome and has an elaborately decorated facade and interior. More than 40 American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art.
After the Library of Congress was burnt by the British, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his comprehensive personal library to the Joint Library Committee in order to restore the Congressional Library. Thomas Jefferson donated 6,487 volumes at a price of $23,950 and the Senate and the House of Representatives approved a bill to purchase Jefferson’s personal library. Most of Jefferson’s books were arranged by subject. His books were organized as Memory (History), Reason (Philosophy) and Imagination (Fine Arts).
Library of Congress Yearly Facts
⇒ Click on a date below to reveal why that date is important. ⇐
President Thomas Jefferson approves a compromise act of Congress “concerning the Library for the use of both Houses of Congress.”
After capturing Washington, the British burn the Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress.
President Madison approves an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 for the acquisition of Jefferson’s library.
A candle left burning in the gallery started a fire but was controlled before it could do serious damage to the Library’s 14,000 volume collection.
A fire broke out in the library destroying approximately 35,000 of the Library’s 55,000 volumes, including nearly two-thirds of Jefferson’s library. A month later Thomas U. Walter presented a plan for the repair and enlargement of the Library which includes fireproof rooms.
President Lincoln approves the $160,000 appropriation for the expansion of the Library’s room.
The emperor of China sends a gift of ten works, consisting of 934 volumes to the US government which forms the nucleus of the Library’s Chinese collection.
The Library purchases more than 2,500 works assembled by Caleb Cushing, the first American Minister to China.
More than 400 volumes from the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II of Turkey establishes the nucleus of the Library’s Turkish collection.
The Court of Neptune Fountain by Roland Hinton Perry which is located in front of the new Library building is completed.
The Library’s program for copying manuscripts in foreign archives that relate to American history officially begins.
The Library of Congress Radio Research Project begins operation.
The Library’s work week is shortened from six days a week at 13 hours a day to five days a week at eight hours a day.
- Library receives the first installment of a collection of materials related to Sigmund Freud.
The Library receives a grant of $75,300 from the Council on Library Resources to establish a Center for the Coordination of Foreign Manuscripts Copying.
Congress approves the Copyright Reform Act of 1976, which creates the American Television and radio Archive in the Library of Congress. The Library is charged with the development and maintenance of”an ongoing collection of television and radio broadcasts that document the history of those media since their inception.”
The Library gets its first Development Office.
Security tightens and Patrons are required to obtain a Library ID with their photograph and there will no longer be public access to the stacks in the general collections or the Law and Serials Divisions.
World Wide Website debuts at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Miami, FL.
Thomas.gov provides free public access to US federal legislative information, debuts as a bipartisan initiative of Congress.
Library purchases the only known copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller. This map contains the first use of the world America asa designation for a part of the new world.
Library launches its Twitter feed an its YouTube channel created June 9, 2007 goes public.
Books become available in Braille and Audio Recordings that are downloadable.
The Library releases statistics for fiscal year 2015 and its collection comprises of more than 162 million physical items in a wide variety of formats.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is on of the country’s most hallowed places where the military dead can be honored by the nation and where the American people can focus on remembering the sacrifices the soldiers had made for the American people.
Arlington property sits on a hill above Potomac River, overlooking spectacular views of Washington D.C.. At the start of the Civil War the Arlington estate became a symbol of the divided nation. This property first belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis Lee and was confiscated to be used by Union Army forces assigned to defend the capital from Southern attack.
The Arlington estate was purchased by the Alexander for “six hogheads of tobacco” from Robert Hewson who was the royal governor of Virginia. In 1778 John Parke Cusis purchased 1,100 acres of land from Gerald Alexander for 1,000 euros of Virginia state currency. When Custis died his son George Washington Parke Custis became the owner. Custis and his wife Mary Lee Fitzhugh owned sheep from Spain that they began to raise in 1803 and ran a Sheep Shearing Festival on the estate for all the farmers to gather and compete. Most of Custis and Fitzhugh sheep were killed off by poachers and dogs and the yearly festival died out.
Your Starting Point
There is an Arlington national cemetery Metro stop by Washington’s subway trains and the Tourmobile. When you arrive, make sure to visit the visitors center located just through the main gate on Memorial Drive. Start your tour at the Arlington House. You will notice the house is under construction and has been for over 10 years. The estate sits on 1160 acres of arable land.
Library of Congress (Exterior), Thomas Jefferson Memorial, World War II Memorial, Library of Congress (Interior), Martin Luther King Memorial, Theodore Roosevelt.
- Start your day early. Especially during tourist season. The paths can get crowded as the day moves forward.
- See if there are any major protests happening in D.C. If there are major protests and you have no interest in participating in them, then explore the food and museums that are located outside of the mall.
- Get to the museums at least 45min. before they open. There will be a line to get through security and the line just gets longer and longer.
- Book yourself a tour with a tour guide. There is so much to learn from an experienced guide. If you’re a night photographer know that only the major buildings and monuments are lit and they aren’t lit up that brightly so you may want to bring a flash.
- For anyone who wants to explore the Washington D.C. Mall at night, make sure to bring a flashlight because the pathways are poorly lit up.
- You can bring your dog, just not inside the enclosed buildings.
America’s Greateste Library – An Illustrated history of the Library of Congress – John Y. Cold and Foreward by Carla D. Hayden
Official Guide to the Smithsonian – 4th Edition – Smithsonain Books
Arlington National Cemetery by Cynthia Parzych