Being the nation’s capitol, you’d think there would be a lot of history in Washington DC. While there is plenty of that, there are more sites that honor history. Disagree? Washington DC is one of the most concentrated sites for memorials there is, more than 160 to be exact. Unlike Boston where the historical sites are practically oozing out of the brick work, DC is a little more underrated. A few large-scale buildings will mark actual historical sites but many of the rest will simply be honoring a historical moment or individual. While putting this list together, my goal was to focus on actual historical sites rather than monuments but a few of those trickled in as well. Take a look for yourself.
The Capitol Building is one of the most iconic buildings within the capitol thanks to the magnificent dome structure. This building, while a huge tourist trap, is an actual historic site. The construction began in 1793 by President George Washington and saw decades before being complete. The War of 1812 brought destruction to the building which was then restored by Charles Bulfinch, a Boston architect who I am learning a bit about while reading The Devil in the White City. The Capitol building has seen a lot of historic moments and represents quite a bit. Tours are available but encouraged to be booked in advance.
Folger Shakespeare Library
I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog but I am a HUGE Shakespeare nerd. I have the full collection and read it voluntarily. The Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s works. It also contains collections from the Renaissance including books, manuscripts and art. It’s an incredible resource both on site and online. They also hold a variety of events from theatre to poetry and more. If you have a chance to see a play at the Folger Theatre, it has an Elizabethan style which provides as authentic of an experience as you can get to Shakespearean times.
Would you give anything to dine where Washington dined? It’s possible! Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant and adjoining museum were originally opened in 1785 and 1792. Gadsby’s was a restaurant that served many historical political figures including George Washington himself not to mention John Adams, James Madison and Marquis de Lafayette. The restaurant is still open for dining and you can walk through the museum year-round. Gadsby’s is in Alexandria, Virginia outside of DC about halfway to Mount Vernon.
Those who love 19th century American history must visit Ford’s Theatre. This solemn location is where Abraham Lincoln unknowingly spent his last moments. This fateful event changed history in ways even experts most likely cannot comprehend. It also catapulted one of the largest conspiracy debates in American history followed nearly 100 years later with the conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy Assassination. Tours are available of the theatre as well as the Petersen House, the place where Lincoln died. There’s much to learn, much to see and do and much to take in. This is yet another site that reservations in advance are encouraged. For those who are interested in theatre as a whole, The Ford’s Theatre is still in business as an actual theatre with regular performances.
Library of Congress
According to their website, the Library of Congress is “the largest library in the world with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections.” The library was originally in the capitol building until destroyed by fire which was then replaced by Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection which he built over 50 years. The library that we know today opened in 1897. It is considered a national monument along with the “‘largest, the costliest and the safest’ library building in the world." A visit to this building is worth it just to admire the beauty of its design.
Old Stone House
For history lovers, it doesn’t get older than the Old Stone House. This structure, located in Georgetown, is the oldest foundation in DC built in 1765. It’s one of the only pre-Revolutionary architectural landmarks left. The National Park Service restored it to it’s original look and people can visit daily for a taste of pre-Revolutionary vibes.
There are many Smithsonian buildings in DC and beyond. One that is truly remarkable is the Castle. It serves as the visitor’s center on the National Mall and also includes a restaurant and gardens that are breathtaking. A quick visit will do this one justice as there isn’t a whole lot to do. Take photos of the grounds and make sure to get the full effect of the castle from across the National Mall or a bit down the path.
Until doing research for this post, I didn’t know that George Washington had no children of his own. He took in Martha Washington’s children, one of whom had a daughter who married the original owner of Tudor Place. The mansion is located in Georgetown and is one of the oldest mansions in an urban area. It stayed in the family for six generations before being donated to a foundation to preserve the property’s history and stories. It’s an extraordinary design that is well worth a tour and time spent.
Besides a moderately interesting story as to how this monument came to be, there is no historical significance to this particular site. Instead, it’s one of those places that honor history, a historical figure to be particular. As the first president George Washington stands for every American ideal and dream. He embodies patriotism and strength for American ideology. When people think of Washington DC, they think of three images: the White House, the Capitol Building (really the Capitol dome) and the Washington Monument.
The White House
The site for The White House was selected by George Washington but took nearly a decade to finish. John and Abigail Adams were the first presidential couple to inhabit the historical home. It has seen its fair share of war and destruction thanks to the War of 1812 but has stood strong since. Besides working as the home of US presidents, the White House also has many historical items that make it a time capsule of sorts as well. As we mentioned in our top tourist site round-up, the White House is a great photo opportunity...from the outside. To receive a tour of the building, it takes going through your member of Congress, lots of paperwork and screening and that’s for a US citizen. I understand the security concerns but if you can live without a tour of the White House, grab a photo of it in the background and call it a day. However, if it’s an absolute bucket list item for you, go for it.