Posts Tagged ‘National Historic Landmark’

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As I was riding around the DuPont Circle neighborhood in northwest D.C. on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a plaque mounted underneath a window on the front of a house located at 1608 R Street (MAP).  So naturally my curiosity compelled me to stop and read it. The commemorative plaque indicated that the house formerly belonged to Charlotte Forten Grimké, and inasmuch as it possessed national significance in commemorating the history of the United States, was designated as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Not knowing who Charlotte Forten Grimké was, or why her house would hold such importance, I researched it later after I got back from my ride. The following is what I found out.

Charlotte Louise Bridges Forten, who would be known as “Lottie,” was born on August 17, 1837, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Mary Virginia Wood and Robert Bridges Forten, members of an affluent and influential black abolitionist family. Her family was involved in the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, an anti-slavery network that rendered assistance to escaped slaves, as well as founding members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and young Lottie grew up in the family tradition to become one of the most influential antislavery and civil rights activists of her time.

Forten also grew up to become a teacher. She attended the Higginson Grammar School, a private academy for young women, where she was the only non-white student in a class of 200. After the Higginson School, she studied literature and teaching at the Normal School in Salem, Massachusetts, which trained teachers. Her first teaching job was in Salem, where she was the first African-American teacher to be hired in Massachusetts, and probably was the first in the country to teach white students. Later Forten was the first black educator to join the Port Royal Experiment, a program during the Civil War to set up schools to begin teaching freed former slaves and their children in South Carolina.

After the war Forten retired from teaching, and obtained a position as a clerk at the Philadelphia branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, where she worked recruiting teachers. It was while she was employed there that she met her future husband, Francis J. Grimké.  They were married in December of 1878, when Charlotte was 41 years old and Francis was 28. The nephew of famed abolitionists and feminists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld, Francis was a Presbyterian minister. They eventually moved to D.C., where Francis became the pastor of the prominent Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in D.C., a major African-American congregation. They had one daughter, Theodora Cornelia, who died in infancy. She lived out the rest of her life with Francis in D.C., where after many years an invalid due to tuberculosis, she died of a cerebral embolism in 1914.

In addition to her extensive work as an antislavery activist and advocate for justice, one of the things for which Charlotte is best remembered is her writings. She also developed a passion for writing poetry, many of which focused on antislavery. During the Civil War, she wrote essays about her experience as a teacher among southern blacks which were published in The Atlantic Monthly under the title “Life on the Sea Islands”, which brought the work of the Port Royal Experiment to the attention of Northern readers. But it is her journals that stand out as the most prominent of her writings. Beginning in her childhood, she kept many journals diligently throughout her entire life. In fact, it is through these journals that we know today how passionate Charlotte Forten was against slavery. She wrote that she simply could not understand why so many whites thought that they were better than blacks. She also wrote about her daughter’s death and her busy life with her husband. Today, her journals are a rare example of documents detailing the life of a free black female in the antebellum era.

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

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The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s first post as President on The White House’s Official Facebook page. Using his iPhone, he posted a famous quote from George Washington, who once said, “The thing about quotes from the Internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”  After updating his online status, I can imagine him then going for an evening walk on a cool, crisp autumn day, much like it was today. Perhaps stopping by Saint John’s Episcopal Church across the street, and maybe even going past his memorial and taking a stroll around The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall on his way home.

Actually, today is the anniversary of the beginning of Lincoln era’s communications equivalent, the first transcontinental overland telegram.  It was sent on this day in 1861, after 112 days of construction, that Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph.  And the first telegram was sent to President Lincoln in D.C., from California Justice Stephen J. Field in San Francisco.  In the message, Field predicted that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The telegraph was received at the telegraph office within the War Department, which was located in a building to the west of the White House. It was known as the Annex, and became very important during the Civil War, with President Lincoln visiting the War Office’s telegraph room for constant updates and reports and walking back and forth to the “Residence”. The original structure was replaced in 1888 by construction of a new building of French Empire design, the “State, War, and Navy Building.” The building was later renamed to honor General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is also commonly referred to as the Old Executive Office Building.

So on for this bike ride, I chose to ride to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located on 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., and is situated just west of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and New York Avenue, and West Executive Drive.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building was designed by Alfred B. Mullett as the supervising architect, with much of the interior designed by Richard von Ezdorf. It was built between 1871 and 1888, and is now maintained by the General Services Administration. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. It was vacated completely in the late 1930s, and the building was nearly demolished in 1957. Then in 1981, plans to restore it began. The building is currently occupied by various agencies that compose the President’s Executive Office, such as the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council. Many White House employees have their offices in the massive edifice. Its most public purpose is that of the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, which is mainly used for special meetings and press conferences.

Interestingly, the building was the site of another telecommunications first. Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first televised Presidential news conference in the building’s Indian Treaty Room in January 1955

As I paused to take a few photos with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but reflect on both the differences and similarities between then and now in terms of communications, politics, and the world. The telegraph line immediately made the Pony Express obsolete, which officially ceased operations two days later. The overland telegraph line then operated until it was replaced a mere eight years later by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the newly-completed Transcontinental Railroad. Much like today, I guess technology changed fairly often even back then too.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The Treasury Building in D.C. is a National Historic Landmark which was built over a period of 33 years between 1836 and 1869. Composed of five stories on five acres of landscaped gardens, the Neoclassical-style building is located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to the White House in northwest D.C. This building, which serves as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The Department of the Treasury, a U.S. Cabinet department, was established by an Act of Congress in 1789 to manage government revenue. The Treasury Department prints and mints all U.S. paper currency and coins through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint. The Department of the Treasury also collects all federal taxes through the Internal Revenue Service, and manages U.S. government debt instruments.

The initial portions of the Treasury Building, the east side and central wing, were designed by architect Robert Mills, and built between 1836 and 1842. The South Wing of the building was designed by Ammi B. Young and Alexander H. Bowman, and continued the basic Mills scheme. Construction of the South Wing occurred between 1855 and 1861. Isaiah Rogers designed the West Wing, which was built between 1862 and 1864. And the North Wing, designed by Alfred B. Mullett, was built between 1867 and 1869, completing the building.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The Treasury Building is the third oldest federally occupied building in D.C., after the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. It would have been the oldest, but the original building and subsequent restorations were destroyed by fire on several occasions, including an accidental fire in 1801, an attack by British troops during the War of 1812, and arson on the night of March 30, 1833. The fire of 1833 was set by Richard H. White, a former clerk, in an attempt to destroy fraudulent pension papers. Although destruction of documents was kept to a minimum, the fire completely destroyed the building. The fire might have been contained if it had been discovered earlier. But at that time, the building had only one night watchman, who was allowed to sleep after making a round of the building at ten o’clock. After four separate trials, however, White was not convicted because the statute of limitations had expired.

The origins of the current Treasury Building has an interesting history. In the early days of the national capital city, the White House and the Capitol Building faced each other at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. However, President Andrew Jackson’s relationship with the Congress were so contentious that it was rumored that he had the Treasury Building placed in its present location so it would block his view of the Capitol. After a prolonged fight with Congress over the location of the new Treasury Building, President Jackson is said to have walked to the site on 15th Street near where the former building had been, drove his cane into the ground, and commanded, “Put the damned thing right here.”

If you’re unable to visit the actual  Treasury Building in D.C., you can see an image of the building any time you want inasmuch as it is featured on the back of the ten-dollar bill.  A portrait of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is on the front of the bill. 

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Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square is a park in northwest D.C., which is bounded by K Street to the north, 13th Street on the east, I Street on the south, and 14th Street on the west (MAP).  The downtown park slopes uphill from I Street to K Street, and is partially terraced.  Franklin Square Park also contains sufficient old growth trees to provide ample shade to visitors, a geometric system of concrete pathways for traversing the park in almost any direction, and a flagstone plaza with a large fountain in its middle.

The 4.79-acre park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is maintained by the National Park Service.  And while it is often assumed that it was named after Benjamin Franklin, there are no records or definitive proof to establish this.  However, Franklin Square is surrounded by a rich history, regardless of the origin of its name.  Across 13th Street on the east side of the square is the historic Franklin School, a National Historic Landmark, which was the scene of Alexander Graham Bell’s first wireless message.  On June 3, 1880, Bell sent a message over a beam of light to a window in a building at 1325 L Street using his newly invented Photophone.   Also, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross maintained a residence adjacent to the park at 1326 I Street, where she held the first official meeting of the relief organization in May of 1881.

Today the park is located in a lively and bustling area of downtown, and often hosts a nearly overflow crowd of employees taking a short break from their responsibilities, or enjoying a lunch obtained from one of the nearby eateries or the many food trucks that surround the park during the middle of the day.  The eclectic crowd utilizing the park can also include anyone or anything, from tourists who have strayed off their usual path, to older people practicing tai chi, and even a service for the homeless and others by the Church of the Epiphany every Tuesday.  There are also the many pigeons who will flock to anyone who purposefully, or sometimes unwillingly, feed them.  The entertainment value of the park makes it a good destination for a bike ride, and an ideal location for a mid-day respite.

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

Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park

On this bike ride I went to one of my favorite parks in D.C.  In a city replete with over a hundred large National Parks and smaller municipal parks from which to choose, Meridian Hill Park stands out.  I originally discovered it by happenstance when I was riding with no destination in mind.  It has since become a favorite destination.

Meridian Hill Park is located in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, on land bordered by 15th, 16th, W, and Euclid Streets (MAP).  Prior to becoming a park, the land had a storied history.  It was used as a geographic marker by President Thomas Jefferson as part of establishing a longitudinal meridian for the city and the nation which was used at that time.  Later the land was part of the grounds of a mansion built by a naval hero of the War of 1812.  It was also used for a Union Army encampment during the Civil War.  It was even a proposed site at the beginning of the 20th century for the construction of a Presidential mansion to replace the White House.  When that did not get approved, a plan to have the site be used for the planned Lincoln Memorial was submitted.

Finally in 1910, the Federal government purchased the land and, by an Act of Congress, established Meridian Hill Park.  Construction began in 1912 based on a design modelled after the grand urban parks found in many major European cities at that time.  The formal, 12-acre landscaped grounds include unique artwork such as a marble sculpture entitled Serenity, a Presidential Memorial to James Buchanan, a memorial statue of Joan of Arc, a statue entitled Dante Alighieri, and an enormous cascading fountain.  The park is surrounded by concrete aggregate architecture which was based on an Italian aristocrat’s private residence.  In 1994 the park was designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park, but is not contiguous with the main part of that park.

The central feature of the park is the thirteen basin cascading waterfall fountain in the lower-level formal garden.  The fountain includes an Italian Renaissance-style terraced fountain in the lower half, and gardens in a French Baroque style in the upper half.   It is designed with a recirculating water system which, through an elaborate series of pumps, supplies water to two large circular fountains on the upper level, and the cascade found on the lower.  It is the largest cascading fountain in North America.

After falling into disrepair and decay in the 1970’s, the park enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the a group of community organizations which formed the “Friends of Meridian Hill” partnership.  After extensive renovations and restoration, the park now hosts a variety of community arts and educational programs, twilight concerts, and on Sunday afternoons during warm weather, people gather in the upper park to dance and participate in a popular Drum Circle, which regularly attracts both enthusiastic dancers and professional drummers.

Whether or not you become a member of the formal partnership by the same name, one visit to this park and you’ll more than likely want to consider yourself a “friend” of Meridian Hill too.

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

 

Woodrow Wilson House

Woodrow Wilson House

While most Presidents happily retire back to their home state after leaving office, Woodrow Wilson decided to remain in D.C.   In fact, he is the only American President to select D.C. to be his home following his final term in office.  So on a recent bike ride I chose to go by the Woodrow Wilson House in northwest D.C.   Sometimes referred to as “the other executive mansion,” the house is located at 2340 S Street (MAP) on Embassy Row in the city’s Kalorama Neighborhood.

Late in 1920 after leading the nation through the first World War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and creating the League of Nations, the 28th President’s second and final term was nearing its end.  Needing a place to live after leaving the White House, his wife Edith Bolling Wilson began to search for an appropriate residence.  His second wife, she had lived in D.C. before they met and received a small fortune when her former husband, a prosperous local jeweler, passed away.  However, her husband made his own plans.  On December 14, Wilson insisted that his wife attend a concert.  When she returned he presented her with the deed to the Georgian style mansion on S Street.  He had bought the house despite having never even seen it.  The former President and his wife moved into the home on Inauguration Day in 1921.

The Wilsons moved into their new retirement haven, but it wasn’t an easy move.  Prohibition forbid the transportation of alcohol, and that presented a problem for Wilson, who did not want to leave his fine wine collection in the White House for his successor.  The recently elected Warren G. Harding was known to be a heavy drinker.  He appealed to Congress, and Congress granted an exception to Prohibition by passing a special law just for him, which allowed one person on one specific day “to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 2340 S Street.”

Wilson, partially paralyzed from a stroke he suffered in 1919, spent his few remaining years in partial seclusion at the house, under the continuous care of his wife and servants.  It was from the balcony of this house that Wilson addressed a crowd in November of 1923 as his last public appearance.  On February 3, 1924, he died in an upstairs bedroom.  He was laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral, becoming not just the only President to remain in D.C. after his presidency, but also the only President to be buried in D.C.   Mrs. Wilson continued to live in the residence until her death in 1961.   She bequeathed the property and all of its original furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated it a National Historic Landmark in 1964.  The National Trust continues to own the house, and currently operates it as a museum.

I think President Wilson would have approved of my adventures biking around and exploring D.C.  He cycled regularly, including several cycling vacations.  However, as President he was unable to bike around D.C. for security reasons.  Unable to ride, he took to playing golf with equal enthusiasm.  In fact, Wilson holds the record among all U.S. Presidents for the most rounds of golf, having played over 1,000 rounds, or almost one every other day.

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The Octagon House

The Octagon House is located at 1799 New York Avenue, Northwest in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. (MAP), just a block away from the White House.  This three-story brick house was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the original architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, using a plan which combined a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle in order to adapt to the irregular-shaped lot on which it sits.  Why this six-sided building is named the Octagon remains a subject of debate. Some say that even though the main room is a circle, it resembled octagonal rooms common in England; others say it’s for the eight angles formed by the odd shape of the six walls–an old definition of an octagon.  Construction began in 1799, and the house was completed in 1802.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Octagon House was initially known as the Colonel John Tayloe III House, after the original owner.  Colonel Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in D.C. at the suggestion of George Washington.  For Tayloe, a young entrepreneur with political aspirations, being close to the center of  the Federal government was a powerful incentive to invest in the still-developing national capitol city.  Upon completion in 1802, The Octagon House became one of the most important homes in D.C., welcoming visitors who included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette, and John C. Calhoun.

During the War of 1812, when British troops were advancing on D.C., the Tayloes approached the French ambassador and offered use of their home as the French embassy. The offer was accepted, and the French ambassador notified the British.  The ambassador also declared the home French territory be designating it as an embassy, and flew the French flag, thus ensuring the house survived intact.

Subsequently, after “The Burning of Washington” by the British in 1814, in which many prominent buildings in D.C. were destroyed, including the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, for use as a temporary “Executive Mansion.”  President Madison used the circular room above the entrance as a study, and signed the ratification papers for the Treaty of Ghent there, which ended the War of 1812.  This treaty still governs relations between the U.S. and Great Britain.

Although Colonel Tayloe died in 1828, Mrs. Tayloe continued to play an active role as a prominent social figure in D.C. and lived in The Octagon until her death in 1855. The Tayloe family sold the house that same year. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and as an apartment building in the post-war period.  The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) near the end of the 19th century, which  took ownership of the property in 1902.

The AIA eventually moved its headquarters to a larger building located directly behind it.  Today, the AIA owns the Octagon House, and provides for the building’s continued care and operation through AIA Legacy, Inc.

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