Visiting Washington Monument State Park

Mary Gormandy White
Washington Monument

Note: The Washington Monument is closed for renovations until the spring of 2019.

The Washington Monument sits majestically at the end of the Washington Mall, opposite the Capitol Building. The 169-meter obelisk, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, commemorates George Washington, the first President of the United States and General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The Monument was opened to the public in 1888 and has come to be a symbol of Washington, DC, as well as the nation.

The Monument

The Washington Monument stands 169 meters tall at the end of the reflecting pool, a lovely foil for the sleek, white structure. Designed by Robert Mills, it was the tallest building in the world when it opened to the public in 1888, a title that was quickly snatched by Paris' Eiffel Tower in 1889. The walls of the Monument are 15 feet thick at the base of the structure, tapering to 15" at the observation deck. 50 flags surround the Monument, one for each state of the union.

History

The planning and building of the Washington Monument was a long and arduous process. The idea was first proposed in 1833, on the anniversary of George Washington's birth. A private committee was set up to raise funds, choose a designer and architect, and oversee the construction. The committee chose Robert Mills, a renowned architect who had already built a Washington Monument in Baltimore. Mills' original design called for a 270-meter high obelisk, surrounded by a round colonnade. To save expense, the committee decided to keep the obelisk, but to forgo the colonnade.

From the very beginning, funding was a problem. The Monument's cornerstone was laid in 1848 before the entire construction cost had been raised. The committee solicited both cash donations and donations of marble, granite, and sandstone blocks for the construction. They ran into problems when different states and organizations inscribed the stones with partisan and controversial phrases. Eventually construction was halted until after the Civil War.

The Washington Monument was finished under the direction of Thomas Lincoln Casey and the U S Corps of Army Engineers. Casey managed to fit in all the 190 donated memorial stones in the interior of the monument, and their inscriptions can be seen today, a living commentary on the times in which the Memorial was built. The Monument was finished in 1884.

Visiting the Washington Monument

Today, visitors from around the world flock to the Monument, making it one of Washington's most popular sites. Like many of Washington DC's attractions, the Washington Monument is free to the public. The Monument is open to visitors every day, except for December 25. Visitors can take the 889 steps to the top or take the 60-second elevator ride. Admission is by timed tickets, distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. It is recommended to get in line for tickets when the ticket kiosk opens at 8am. The monument has a gift shop, restrooms, and a snack bar. The nearest metro station to the Monument is the Smithsonian station.

Visiting Washington Monument State Park