When looking for historic Washington DC it’s easy here to find a museum, a government building or gallery. They are plentiful, varied and not too far from each other. Our choices were the Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery and the National museum of American History. Although we’ll point out other places worth seeing when they are nearby!
We wanted to spend a day looking back to Washington’s beginnings or at least it’s historic past. You really get to understand a city that way. The sightseeing in this post is ideal for a weekend in Washington DC, as it’ll give you a really broad insight in only three places.
Library of Congress
In 1800 John Adams, the President at the time, signed a bill describing a reference library of Congress, “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…”
The suitable apartment turned out to be very lavish indeed…
We didn’t know what to expect, although we had heard it was the most underrated tourist stop in the city.
As soon as you enter the Library of Congress your head tilts up. It was glorious!
It’s all very Italian Renaissance.
1814 the invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, where the original small library was housed, burning and pillaging it’s contents. Ouch.
Retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library having spent 50 years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science”.
His library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States.
Jefferson’s eclectic collection of books resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs being offered to the growing library.
Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Congress excepted the need for a new building.
In 1873 Congress authorised a competition to design plans for the new Library and so this incredible national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world was born.
And it certainly is impressive!
All the sculptural and painted decoration was achieved by more than 50 American artists.
To see the actual library i.e. where the books are, you have to queue to go up the stairs where you get to look down into the studious area.
Today it holds the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings. You can’t get in there readily. But as a tourist you view the actual library from above.
Pretty cool heh?
A beautiful dome caps the library.
Back among the pillars upstairs, we found a room full of historic pieces on display.
It was a small but exciting exhibition ‘Exploring the Early Americas’.
They transport you into indigenous cultures, the dramatic encounters between Native Americans and European explorers and settlers, and the important changes caused by the meeting of these different worlds.
I really loved these. There’s something about a beautiful map, don’t you think?
Enjoying the fresh air after our neurological explosion we strolled past the Supreme Court which was nearby.
Another short walk along and you’ll see the Senate offices.
We fancied a coffee so popped into Union Station.
It was the first building to be made of white granite, previously only used for headstones (bit grim).
This bronze bell, that sits in front of the station, is the Freedom bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell which symbolises Americas Independence, so well worth noting on our historic Washington dc day.
Annoyingly for us much of the inside of Union station was behind scaffolding on our visit. Tho’ the food and shop hall was still quite a sight.
I thought it looked cool, especially in black and white…
National Portrait Gallery
Hubby had a hankering for the National Portrait Gallery, so after a spot of lunch we head off there.
I have to say, I enjoyed gazing into famous faces, taking them in.
This is the earliest know portrait of Thomas Jefferson.
He was President, but was also author of the Declaration of Independence, he was responsible for Religious Freedom in Virginia and also founded the city’s University. Good man.
John Adams (saw a mini series of him once- it was good, look out for it).
He was George Washington’s Vice President and the President himself, tho’ proclaimed ‘No man who ever held the office of President would ever congratulate a friend on obtaining it’.
A photograph of the unmistakable Abraham Lincoln and his faint, tired smile.
Franklin Roosevelt was the President who was in office during the Great Depression. His economic measures changed the redefined the government’s role in American’s life.
He was very popular and got voted in 4 terms.
This portrait was around World War II when he would have been meeting Winston Churchill.
Nixon (you can’t admire them all..)
In other areas art expressed difficult times in American history.
I recognised this crazy looking bloke. Albert Einstein was actually German but emigrated to America in the 30’s. He was good at maths.
Some faces meant nothing to me but I liked them none the less.
We enjoyed this gallery. You should check it out if you get the chance. You’ll be amazed at how many time you say ‘Oh, look, it’s…’
National museum of American History
Our final trip out that day was the National museum of American History.
You get to see a lot of cool things here. Like this Huey, which served in Vietnam. They carried troops low and slow into battle landing in clearings barely larger than the sweep of their motors.
Hubby took his time, connecting dates with English history and occasionally checking facts with me. Sweet that he thinks I retain information like he does – sadly I don’t, which is why I like to write things down, so I ‘erm’, tilt my head and even just stare blankly at him, until he works it out himself.
Abraham Lincoln’s hat! He was the first American President to be assassinated and in death became a martyr for National unity and equality.
You get to see things the Presidents children would have played with in The White House,
and Michelle Obama’s beautiful Inauguration dress.
This yellow silk gown was worn by Jacqueline Kennedy at her first State dinner.
And I was strangely thrilled to see the original Elmo. I think he was thrilled to see me too.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the historic Washington DC. There are many many more galleries and Museums to visit within a small area. So, it’s a great city if you like this sort of thing. Which we do!