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The Washington Monument

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The Washington Monument - 1845

The original 1845 design by Robert Mills, which was later scaled back to include only the obelisk

courtesy of the National Park Service

At 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches, the Washington Monument is considered to be the tallest piece of free-standing masonry in the world. Patterned after ancient Egyptian obelisks (though several times larger), it dominates the Mall and much of downtown Washington DC with its symbolic presence, attracting more than 800,000 visitors a year. Located between 15th and 17th streets, it is part of the National Capital Parks Central Region, which is responsible for administering and preserving more than 1,000 acres of the most significant natural and cultural resources in the United States.

Its History

The idea for a monument or memorial to pay tribute to George Washington as the first president can be traced back to the early days of the republic. While he was alive, however, Washington managed to ward off attempts to have a monument erected in his honor. Following his death in 1799, Congress failed on several occasions to fund a monument and it wasn't until 1833 that a group of citizens founded the Washington National Monument Society, a private organization dedicated to building a monument to the United States' first president.

In 1836 they invited American architects to submit designs for the structure and in 1845, Robert Mills' neoclassical design was selected. It featured a 500-foot obelisk, a 110-foot Greek temple with colonnades, and statuary of Washington driving a chariot of Arabian horses. Due to the high cost involved, this design was eventually discarded, except for the obelisk.

By 1848, the Washington National Monument Society had collected $230,000 for the project and the cornerstone was laid on July 4th of that year. It included a time capsule containing statistics on Washington DC, newspapers, coins and currency, a Bible, and information on the Washington family. In 1854, the monument had reached a height of 153 feet, but further work was halted due to scarce funding and a controversy over a stone donated by Pope Pius IX. In 1876 Congress appropriated sufficient funds for completion of the project, and the work was taken over and finished by the US Army Corps of Engineers in December of 1884. Standing as the world's tallest building, the Washington Monument was dedicated in 1885 at a ceremony on the Mall. The Restoration Effort

Aging, weathering, an antiquated heating and cooling system, and other problems took their toll on the Washington Monument over the years. As a result, it underwent a three-phase, $9.4 million restoration project over a period of two years. The last phase of the restoration included a new state-of-the-art elevator cab to allow visitors riding down from the 500-foot observation level at the top to be able to look through windows in the elevator cab to observe several of the 193 restored commemorative stones on the interior walls of the Monument. The last major renovation had taken place in 1934, when engineers repaired extensive lightning damage and replaced 48,046 linear feet of mortar.

Visiting the Monument and Other Nearby National Park Sites

The Washington Monument is normally open from 9:00am until 4:45pm, seven days a week. Free tickets for a timed entrance are available at the ticket kiosk on 15th Street at the base of the monument. Tickets can also be reserved for a fee by calling 800-967-2283 or over the Internet at http://reservations.nps.gov. For further information on the monument or to request a "Welcome to Washington Map" that illustrates the routes to the National Mall as well as other important visitor information, call 202-426-6841.

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