A Capitol Attraction

Washington’s newest attraction proves that progress can come to the capital city. Last December, just in time for President Obama’s inauguration, Congressional leaders proudly dedicated the new Capitol Visitor Center with ceremonies in its grand hall, which covers 1.3 acres and looks bright as the day beneath huge skylights with walls clad in Virginia limestone. Read more »

Washington Acropolis

The U.S. Capitol stands where it always has, but the columns that originally held it up have become a hauntingly beautiful monument somewhere else

One of the most recent and most impressive monuments in Washington, D.C., is in fact nearly two centuries old. Three miles east of the Capitol, the U.S. National Arboretum’s 444 densely planted acres fall away from Mount Hamilton to open out into a great meadow, and there, silhouetted against a curtain of dark, blue-green beech trees, stands a choir of twenty-two massive sandstone pillars. Mysterious and beautiful, the thirty-foot-high, ten-ton shafts might be some relic of classical antiquity.Read more »

I Love Washington

A noted historian’s very personal tour of the city where so much of the American past took shape—with excursions into institutions famous and obscure, the archives that are the nation’s memory, and the haunts of some noble ghosts

The only one of our Presidents who retired to Washington after leaving office was Woodrow Wilson, and for all his celebrated professorial background he certainly did it in style. Ten of his friends chipped in ten thousand dollars each to cover most of the cost of a house of twenty-two rooms on S Street, just off Embassy Row. S Street was quiet and sedate then and it remains so. But once, on Armistice Day 1923, twenty thousand people came to cheer Wilson. They filled the street for five blocks. I have seen the photographs.Read more »

George Washington Sat Here … And Here …

James Fenimore Cooper told him; Charles Sumner and Ralph Waldo Emerson told him; even Charles Bulfinch, one of the architects of the Capitol, told him; but Horatio Greenough knew his own mind. The gigantic monument to George Washington taking shape in Greenough’s Florentine studio was to be “the birth of my thought.Read more »

The Day They Burned The Capitol

Only a lucky rainfall put an end to our humiliation

Washington in 1814 was a capital city with no past to speak of, nothing much in the way of a present, and a future greater than any man then alive could imagine. It was a straggling country town, its dirt roads alternately ankle-deep in powdery dust and hub-deep in mud, with a general air of unfinished emptiness about it, and it was to become a great center of world power, imposing to look at, a place of destiny, majestic and secure.Read more »