The Smithsonian Castle

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DC Trip 2023

Washington, DC possesses the largest concentration of National Park Service units of any metropolitan area. I decided to use one of my long weekends in April to visit DC and check a few units off my list. I toured several memorials, monuments and other sites, including the Smithsonian Castle. The Castle is one of the many historic buildings lining the National Mall.

The National Mall

The National Mall stretches from the Capitol to the Potomac River. It serves as “America’s Front Lawn” and its premiere civic and symbolic space. Originally in the L’Enfant plan for the city, the National Mall and Memorial Parks unit of the NPS protects iconic monuments and memorials and over 1,000 acres of greenspace. The Smithsonian Castle is the oldest building still standing on the Mall proper.

Smithsonian Castle

James Smithson was an English scientist and the illegitimate son of royalty. He left his fortune to his nephew since he had no children of his own. Smithson stipulated in his will that, should the nephew die without an heir, the money be used to form the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC for the “diffusion of knowledge”.

Smithson did not visit the United States in his lifetime and died in Genoa in 1829. His nephew died without an heir in 1935, setting the bequest in motion. The building committee held a contest in 1846 for the design of the first Smithsonian building.

Architect James Renwick, Jr won the contest. Renwick designed The Castle to evoke the Collegiate Gothic style of English universities. He used Seneca red sandstone from a quarry in Maryland to construct the building. It was completed in 1855.

In 1904, Alexander Graham Bell, who was a Smithsonian regent, brought Smithson’s remains to the US from Genoa. Smithson was laid to rest in a crypt inside the north entrance of The Castle.

Today, The Castle houses the administrative offices and serves as the Smithsonian’s main visitor center. It closed for renovation in early 2023

2023 DC Trip Posts

  • Eisenhower Memorial
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • Washington Monument
  • WWII Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Vietnam Memorial
  • The White House
  • Constitution Gardens
  • WWI Memorial
  • Fords Theater
  • Mount Vernon Mansion
  • Mount Vernon Grounds
  • Korean War Memorial
  • Hampton House

Location: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC
Designation: National Historic Landmark
Date designated/established: January 12, 1965
Date of my visit: April 6, 2023

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