Posts Tagged ‘National Capitol Columns’

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The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts

In addition to the U.S. Capitol Building itself, there are a number of other buildings, memorials and other attractions on the building’s grounds.  But during this lunchtime bike ride I went to see some that are no longer there.  They are no longer on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building because they were moved just over a dozen blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, and are now located in President’s Park on The Ellipse, just south of The White House.

The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts were designed circa 1828 as part of the original Capitol design by then-Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch. Thus they are also often referred to as the Bullfinch Gatehouses. The first gatehouse, known as the East Gatehouse, and three gateposts, now stand at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP) in the Downtown neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The other, the West Gatehouse, is two blocks further up the street, at 17th Street and Constitution.

Similar in detail to the four Bulfinch Gatehouses, numerous gateposts were designed by Bullfinch and incorporated in the former fence around the Capitol grounds.  As part of major landscaping renovations of the Capitol grounds in 1887 by Frederick Law Olmsted, all of the gateposts were removed.  Seven survive today.  Three are located near the East Gatehouse.  The four other remaining gateposts were relocated to The United States National Arboretum, much like the National Capitol Columns, which also used to be located at the U.S. Capitol Building but now reside at the Arboretum in northeast D.C.  The gateposts there now flank the main entrance at New York Avenue and Springhouse Road.

The original use of the gatehouses and coordinating gateposts were described in a 1834 guide to the U.S. Capitol Building as “…four grand entrances to these grounds, two from the north and south for carriages, and two from the east and west for foot passengers. The western entrance at the foot of the hill is flanked by two stone lodges, highly ornamented for watch houses…”

In 1880 the gatehouses and gateposts were relocated to their present locations. And in 1938 – 1939, the relocated gatehouses were restored under the direction of National Park Service architect Thomas T. Waterman.  At that time they were given new roofs, doors and windows. The gatehouses are almost identical. One major difference, however, is that the East Gatehouse bears two high water marks carved into the stone to commemorate flooding in 1877 and 1881. The gatehouses are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in their new locations.

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The National Capitol Columns

The National Capitol Columns

One of D.C.’s most unusual landmarks is the National Capitol Columns.  What has been described as having the appearance of the ruins of a Greek temple rising up inexplicably in the middle of a field, the 22 Corinthian columns draw visitors year-round to their current home in the Ellipse Meadow at the U.S. National Arboretum, located at 3501 New York Avenue (MAP) in northeast D.C.

The columns were originally part of the U.S. Capitol Building from 1828 until they were removed in 1958, and eventually dedicated at their new home in 1990.  The columns with typical Hellenistic Corinthian motifs were among the 24 that were part of the Capitol Building’s east central portico that was designed by an architect from Boston named Charles Bulfinch, who while serving as D.C.’s Commissioner of Public Building oversaw construction of the portico using a design handed down by the original architects of the Capitol, William Thornton and Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

After being completed in 1828, the columns provided the backdrop for presidential inaugurations from Andrew Jackson in 1839 through Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, as well as numerous speeches, protests, rallies, and other gatherings during those years.  The columns, which had originally been constructed long before the familiar Capitol dome was completed, were subsequently removed in 1958 when the base of the Capitol Building was renovated and expanded in order to support and provide aesthetic symmetry for the newly expanded dome.  The columns, which were made out of sandstone, were considered too fragile to support the dome and were replaced with marble replicas.

Soon after the original columns were put into storage on the banks of the Anacostia River, a woman named Ethel Garrett struck upon the idea of preserving them so that the public could enjoy their power, beauty and historic associations.  As a benefactor of the National Arboretum, Garrett wanted the columns to be relocated to the Arboretum’s grounds.  So she consulted with her close friend, Russell Page, a noted English landscape architect, to find a suitable location.

Page determined that the east side of the Ellipse Meadow would be an ideal site, as the columns would be in scale with the more than 20 acres of open space available at that location, and would be visible in the distance to greet visitors as they entered the grounds.  Just before his death, Page sketched a design incorporating the columns in a nearly square formation set on a foundation of stones from the steps that were on the east side of the Capitol.  The design also incorporated a reflecting pool fed by a small stream of water running down a channel in the steps, which would not only reflect the columns, but provide the added elements of sound and movement as well.

It should be noted that only 22 of the original 24 columns stand in formation at the Ellipse Meadow.  So if you want to be able to say that you have seen all 24, you will have to go to the Arboretum’s Azalea Collection on the summit of Mount Hamilton, where the remaining two lie on the ground.  Both are cracked in half and neither still has its base or capital.  Across the Ellipse Meadow from the formation of columns, however, is a capital, or top portion, of one of the columns.  It is presumably from one of the two “missing” columns.  Located at ground level, it allows visitors an up-close view of the craftsmanship of the stone carver and the incredible detail incorporated into the columns.

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The United States National Arboretum

The United States National Arboretum

On this bike ride I rode to the United States National Arboretum, which is located just two miles from the U.S. Capitol Building in northeast D.C., with entrances at 3501 New York Avenue (MAP), and at the eastern end of R Street.  The arboretum was established in 1927 by an act of Congress after a campaign by the then chief botanist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Frederick Vernon Coville.  The Arboretum is a public garden, research facility, and urban “green space” operated by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service as a division of the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.  The Friends of the National Arboretum, an independent, non-profit organization, also works to enhance and support the National Arboretum.

As the only federally supported arboretum, and one of the largest arboretums in the country, the National Arboretum plays a unique role.  Functioning as a major center of botanical research and education, the arboretum conducts wide-ranging basic and developmental research on trees, shrubs, turf, and floral plants.  It is also a source for independent researchers, with a library containing approximately 10,000 volumes and 90 publications concentrating in botanical literature.

Comprised of 446 acres, and bordered on the east by the banks of the Anacostia River, the arboretum breeds, grows and displays acres of trees, shrubs and plants.  One of the most popular exhibits is the azaleas, with approximately 10,000 specimens planted throughout its hillsides.  It was one of the first collections, and  is such a sight to behold in early spring when the plants are in bloom that it was the azalea bloom that first prompted the Arboretum to open its doors to the public in 1949.

Also during the early spring, the arboretum is an ideal spot to enjoy cherry trees.  Although the National Mall area may be more widely known for the spring cherry blossoms of its dozen species and cultivars of trees, the arboretum boasts the same 12 varieties as well as 64 more.

Visitors also enjoy a variety of other exhibits year round, from formal landscaped gardens to the Gotelli Dwarf, and the slow growing Conifer Collection.  The Arboretum is also well known for its bonsai collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  Other special displays include seasonal exhibits, aquatic plants, collections of herbaceous plants and a National Herb garden, the Asian Collections, native plant collections, and the National Grove of State Trees.  Single-genus groupings include apples, boxwoods, dogwoods, hollies, magnolias and maples.

Another of the arboretum’s recent features and one of its most unique is The National Capitol Columns, comprised of 23 Corinthian columns that were part of the U.S. Capitol Building from 1828 until 1958.  They are the remnants of the old east portico that were removed when the building was renovated and expanded.  Originally destined for a landfill, the columns were rescued and put on display on a knoll near the Arboretum’s main entrance.

The arboretum is not only a good destination for a ride, but also allows riders to tour the grounds on their bikes.  With a campus that includes nine miles of roads with little to no traffic, as well as multiple trails and paths, I’m going to have to go back many times to continue exploring all that it has to offer.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]