Completed in 1855, the original Smithsonian Institution Building was designed by architect James Renwick Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. This Washington landmark is constructed of red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Maryland, in the Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs).
Over the years several reconstructions have taken place. The first followed a disastrous fire on January 24, 1865, which destroyed the upper story of the main segment and the north and south towers. In 1884, the east wing was fireproofed and enlarged to accommodate more offices. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited.
This building served as a home for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry and his family and for many years housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including an exhibit hall from 1858 until the 1960s. In 1901, Washington’s first children’s room was installed in the Castle’s South Tower Room where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in 1987. Located inside near the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall, a bronze statue of Joseph Henry, executed by William Wetmore Story, honors the eminent scientist who was the Institution’s first Secretary.