Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

EOY2017 (130)

The Castle (front)

One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution Building.  Colloquially known as “The Castle,” it is located just off the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive (MAP).  I’ve passed by it during bike rides literally thousands of times over the years.  And I’ve visited some of the many gardens surrounding it, such as The Enid A. Haupt Garden, The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, and my personal favorite, The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  But I’ve never researched it or featured it in this blog.  But with it appearing to be so picturesque on this ride, I decided it was about time I did.

The Castle 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, also in D.C.  It was the first Smithsonian building.  There are now 20 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, 11 of which are at the National Mall.  The Castle was designed and built in the Norman Revival style, a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs, which causes it to stand out among D.C.’s other architectural styles.  And it is constructed of Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca quarry in nearby Seneca, Maryland, which causes it to further stand out in contrast to the granite, marble and yellow sandstone from the other major buildings in D.C.  Construction began in 1847 and was completed in 1855.  It was designated added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.

The Castle initially served as a home and office for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry.  And until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices; lecture halls; exhibit halls; a library and reading room; chemical laboratories; storage areas for specimens; and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists.

Currently, The Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located in The Castle.  In the visitor center you can get a grasp of the scope and scale of the Smithsonian with an exhibit entitled “America’s Treasure Chest”, that displays items from collections across the Smithsonian.  There are also interactive displays and maps, and computers that can electronically answer most common questions.  There are volunteers and in-house experts as well, who can answer other questions and provide information about what to see and do based on what’s currently going on at all the Smithsonian museums.  Additionally, docent tours highlighting The Castle’s 19th-century architecture and history are available.

The visitor center is also home to a museum store featuring a myriad of souvenirs, and the Castle Café, where visitors can enjoy specialty sandwiches, soups, pastries, organic salads, antipasti, a coffee, espresso/cappuccino bar, teas, bottled beverages, beer, wine and, when in season, ice cream.

Finally, just inside the north entrance of The Castle is a crypt that houses the tomb of James Smithson.  Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who never married and had no children.  Therefore, when he wrote his will, he left his estate to his nephew, or his nephew’s family if his nephew died before him.  If his nephew were to die without heirs, however, Smithson’s will stipulated that his estate be used “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.  Smithson died in Genoa, Italy in June of 1829, at the age of 64.  Six years later, in 1835, his nephew died without heir, setting in motion the bequest to the United States.  In this way Smithson became the founding patron of the Smithsonian Institution despite having never visited the United States.

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The Castle (back)

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The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial

As I was leisurely riding near The Ellipse and President’s Park on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a relatively small, nondescript granite shaft near the sidewalk along 15th Street. To the tourists and others walking past it, it seemed as unimportant as an unsolicited opinion. But the fact that they were ignoring it made me even more curious to find out about it. So I stopped to look at it and take some photographs, and found out that it is the Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial.

Also known as the Settlers of the District of Columbia Monument, or the First Settlers Monument, the memorial is an historic feature of President’s Park South. It is located on the eastern side of The Ellipse to the east of the Boy Scouts of America Memorial and on the western side of 15th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Until the late part of the 18th century, the Continental Congress met in numerous locations, effectively resulting in several different cities having served as the nation’s capital. These cities included: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, and; New York City. Because of this, the Continental Congress decided that the nation’s capital be established permanently at one location. Disagreements quickly rose as to which state it would be a part of. In 1790, Alexander Hamilton proposed a solution that established the new permanent capital on Federal land rather than in a state. President George Washington, who was raised in the Potomac area, was chosen to pick the site. As a result, the permanent capital was established in 1791 in its current location, with both Maryland and Virginia giving up land along the Potomac River to establish the Federal district.

The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial commemorates the eighteen original patentees who granted land for the establishment of the nation’s new capital city. A patentee is someone to whom a grant is given and, in this case, the grant was ownership of the land that became the District of Columbia. The monument to commemorate these men was given to the city by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was dedicated during a ceremony on April 25, 1936.

On the east side of the monument facing 15th Street is inscribed “To The Original Patentees/Prior To 1700 Whose Land / Grants Embrace The Site Of / The Federal City. Monument Erected By The / National Society Of The / Daughters American / Colonists, April 25, 1936.” The names of the original landowners, listed on the other three sides, and the date of their land patents, are inscribed in the base of the monument. They are, in ascending order: Robert Troope, 1663; George Thompson, 1663; Francis Pope, 1663; John Langworth, 1664; John Lewger, 1666; Richd and Wm Pinner, 1666; Zachariah Wade, 1670; Richard Evans, 1685; Henry Jowles, 1685; Andrew Clarke, 1685; John Peerce, 1685; Walter Houp, 1686; Walter Thompson, 1686; Ninian Beall, 1687; John Walson, 1687; William Hutchison, 1696; Walter Evans, 1698, and; William Atcheson, 1698.

Each of the four sides of the monument also contains a stone relief panel carved by Carl Mose, a former instructor at the Corcoran School of Art. The panels contain symbols of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits. On the east side above the main inscription is a relief depicting a tobacco plant, a major cash crop of the colonies. The relief on the north side of the monument depicts a fish, a food staple in those times. On the west face of the monument is a relief of a stalk of corn, which native Indians introduced to the colonists, showing them how to use as food and fertilizer for other crops. And on the monument’s south face is a relief of a wild turkey, another abundently-available food staple of the time.

So as most people walk past it without a second thought, the monument to the men whose land became the nation’s capital stands silently by to remind us of their names, which may have otherwise been lost over time. And had it not been for these men, the location of our capital, and even the history of our country, may have been different.

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

Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

A short bike ride from downtown D.C., located just off the Rock Creek Park Trail that parallels the water along the north bank of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, and near Ohio and West Basin Drives (MAP) in Southwest D.C., I discovered a stone with a brass plaque marker.  After reading the plaque, I learned that the marker was placed there by The Aero Club of Washington, commemorating the first air mail flight to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service.  The air mail service planes used the nearby field just south of The Washington Monument near the National Mall to take off and land.

Following 52 experimental flights by the Post Office Department in 1911 and 1912, the first extended test of airmail service began on May 15, 1918, when the U.S. Army and the Post Office Department together began operating a line using U.S Army training plains, known as “Jenny” biplanes.  The planes were flown by Army pilots operating on a route between the old Washington Polo Grounds near the marker, and Belmont Park in New York City, with an intermediate stop at Bustleton Field in Philadelphia.  Included in those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

An Army lieutenant named George L. Boyle was selected to pilot the aircraft on the first flight.  Unfortunately, that flight turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture, and perhaps an omen of the Postal Service’s future level of quality and service.  Boyle became disoriented almost immediately after take off, and started flying in the wrong direction.  Upon realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing in nearby Waldorf, Maryland.  However, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, and the mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to D.C.   The mail was flown to Philadelphia and New York the next day but, of course, arrived late.

The plaque on the marker does not make mention of this ignominious beginning.  It reads:  “Air Mail. The world’s first airplane mail to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service started from this field May 15, 1918.  The route connected Washington, Philadelphia and New York, CurtisJN 4-H airplanes with a capacity of 150 pounds of mail flew the 230 miles in above three hours.  The service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in cooperation with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.  On August 12, 1918, the service was taken over in its entirety by the Post Office Department.  This marker was erected by The Aero Club of Washington on the fortieth anniversary.  May 15, 1958.”

Less than twenty years later, in October of 1975, Air Mail as a separate class of service was effectively ended within the U.S. when all domestic intercity First Class mail began to be transported by air at the normal First Class rate, and was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service.

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This is the 100th post on this blog, so I decided to use the occasion to write about the thing that makes traveling around and exploring D.C. possible for me – the bicycle.  It’s also a good topic because it is the anniversary of the introduction of the bicycle to the United States, which were seen for the first time during this week  in 1819 on the streets of New York City.

Alternately called “velocipedes,” “swift walkers,” “hobby horses” or my favorite, “dandy horses” for the “dandies” that most often rode them, they had been imported from London earlier that same year.  Shortly thereafter, in August, the city’s Common Council passed a law to “prevent the use of bikes  in the public places and on the sidewalks of the city of New York.”

Riding a bike on the sidewalk is still against the law in many major cities, including some parts of D.C.  But both bikes and how cities now accommodate and even encourage their usage have changed a lot over the last 195 years.  During this ride I saw many other bikes and riders.  I also saw and used specially-built dedicated bike lanes, paths and trails.  And there was signage specifically for bike riders, and designated parking and storage space for bikes.  The city of D.C. also has a robust bike share program, through which bikes can be rented.  I also rode past Nationals Park, where they even have valet parking for bikes.

My bike rides in D.C. over the past few years would have been a lot different if all these changes had not taken place.  I probably wouldn’t have discovered or gone to many of the places I’ve seen during my rides.  And without visiting those different places this blog would not exist.  So with today’s blog post I celebrate the introduction of the dandy horse in this country, which made this blog possible.

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