A CAPITAL IDEA
June 24, 2012 (San Diego) -- Ironically, the only president who didn’t live in Washington was Washington. During George Washington’s administration the nation's capital was situated in Philadelphia.
In 1788 Maryland and Virginia in 1789 donated a hundred square miles of land to the American government to be used for a capital city. George Washington chose the territory contributed by Maryland, and title to Virginia’s land was returned to that state. Before Washington, D.C., was established, the early congresses had met in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and York, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey; Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland; and New York City.
It was John Adams who first occupied what was then known as the President’s House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Adams family moved into their new home on November 1, 1800, while the paint was still drying. Adams occupied the President’s House for only four months, having lived most of his term in Philadelphia.
- Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to call his D.C. home the White House. Previously, the house had been called the President's House or the Executive Mansion. The White House is the most-visited building in the United States. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home, is second.
- When, in 1814–during the War of 1812–British troops burned the White House, Dolley Madison (1768-1849), wife of President James Madison, rescued Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington before she fled the city. That most-recognized of all presidential portraits is the only remaining possession from the original building. The treasure now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.
- The Washington Monument honors George Washington and, in many people's eyes, symbolizes the city of Washington, D.C. Surrounded by fifty American flags, the monument stands near the west end of the National Mall. Towering 555 feet high, this marble obelisk is the tallest stone structure in the world.
- The building of the monument began in patriotic fashion on July 4, 1848. Because of a lack of funds and the onset of the Civil War, construction was halted in 1856 and wasn't resumed for 20 years. The American centennial in 1876 inspired a national passion to complete the obelisk, a goal reached in December 6, 1884, when the final capstone was set. Because marble from one quarry was used from 1848 until 1856 and marble from another from 1876 to 1884, a horizontal line about one-third up separates one color from the slightly different color of the top two thirds.
- The first cherry trees of Washington, D.C., were a gift from the people of Tokyo to the city of Washington. First Lady Helen Herron Taft, along with the Vicountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador, supervised the planting of the first trees in 1912. Currently more than 3,750 cherry trees of 16 species adorn the capital.
- The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the largest museum complex in the world, includes museums and galleries, nine research centers, and 160 affiliate museums around the world. Enabled by the bequest of the English chemist James Smithson, it was established in 1846. The Smithsonian comprises sixteen museums in Washington: the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of African Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Kenwick Gallery, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Anacostia Community Museum, the Arts and Industries Building, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Postal Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the S. Dillon Ripley Center, and the Smithsonian Institution Building (known as "The Castle").
- Also in Washington sit the Smithsonian Gardens and the National Zoo, and the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center is located nearby at Dulles International Airport. The National Museum of the American Indian's Heye Center and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, both in New York City are also part of the Smithsonian. With all these museums, it's no wonder that the Smithsonian is sometimes called "the Nation's Attic."
San Diegans Richard Lederer and Caroline McCullagh are the proud parents of a bouncing baby book, American Trivia: What We All Should Know About U.S. History, Culture & Geography (Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2012). Over a span of a year, the co-authors will share with you their journey through American history. You can order inscribed and signed copies of the book by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.