Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Smithsonian Institution Building, by Unknown, 1903, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-12566.
Smithsonian Institution Building
Buffalo Behind Smithsonian Institution Building, by Unknown, c. 1886-1889, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MAH 9731.
Buffalo Behind Smithsonian Institution Building
Fireworks for 150th Birthday Party on the Mall, by Bryant, M, 1996, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-25380-35 or 96-25380.35.
Fireworks for 150th Birthday Party on the Mall
Smithsonian Institution Building, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1990, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 90-6258.
Smithsonian Institution Building

Smithsonian Institution Building and The Mall, 1855, by Unknown, c. 1855, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2004-10647 or 18603.The Smithsonian Institution Building, popularly known as the "Castle," was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. The building is constructed of red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Maryland, in the Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs). When it was completed in 1855, it sat on an isolated piece of land cut off from downtown Washington, DC, by a canal. In the ensuing decades, the Castle became the anchor for the National Mall, as additional museums and government buildings were constructed around it. Over the years several reconstructions have taken place. The first followed a disastrous fire on January 24, 1865, which destroyed the upper story of the main segment and the north and south towers. In 1883, the east wing was fireproofed and enlarged to accommodate more offices. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited. In 1977, the Castle was awarded Historic Landmark status.

Henry Family at East Door of Castle, by Unknown (Titian R. Peale?), 1862, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SA-203 or sa-203.The Castle served as a home and office for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry. Until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices; lecture halls; exhibit halls; a library and reading room; chemical laboratories; storage areas for specimens; and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists. In 1881, the US National Museum, now known as the Arts and Industries Building, opened adjacent to the Castle to house most of the museum collections. In the late 1880s, the South Yard behind the Castle was home to the fledgling National Zoological Park.

Children's Room, SI Building, by Unknown, c. 1901, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MAH-13391.In 1901, Washington's first children's museum was installed in the Castle's South Tower Room, where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in 1987. Over the years, the Castle has been home to the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Today, the Castle houses the Institution's administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. Located inside the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall, a bronze statue of Joseph Henry executed by William Wetmore Story, honors the eminent scientist who was the Institution's first Secretary.

Further Exploration

Related Collections

Other Resources

Today in Smithsonian History

U.S. Fish Commission at Armory Building, by Photo Engraving Co. of New York, 1885, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 95-1179.

July 31, 1876

The US Congress grants to the Smithsonian the use of the Armory Building on the southern side of the National Mall between 6th and 7th Streets. The four-story building is assigned in 1877 to the United States National Museum which fills it from "top to bottom" with collections, including those from the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. The US Fish Commission, administered by the Smithsonian, is also located there. The building was originally erected in 1856 for the use of local volunteers and militia.More

Did you know...

That President Lincoln observed signaling experiments in order to improve army communications from the Smithsonian Castle tower during the Civil War?

Related Media

View of the Mall from the Castle, 1983, by Richard Haas.
Japanese Armor in the Smithsonian Castle, 1873, by C. Seaver Jr.
Smithsonian Institution, n.d.
James Smithson Memorial Plaque, by Unknown, c. 1900, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 11812 or AI-11812 or 10226-A.
Knickerbocker Snowstorm Hits Washington, D.C, January 29, 1922, Smithsonian Archives - History Div.
Smithsonian Institution Building, by Charles Hoover.
North Facade of Smithsonian Castle, by Unknown, c. 1920, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 27446 or MAH-27446.
Smithsonian Commemorative Coin, STS-79, Designed by John M. Mercanti and Thomas D. Rogers, National Air and Space Museum, A19980084000.