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.

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Today in Smithsonian History

Handwritten Draft of James Smithson Will, Pages 1 and 3 and 2 and 4, by Smithson, James 1765-1829, 1826, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 72-3960-A and 72-3960.

October 23, 1826

James Smithson makes his will while residing in Bentinck Street, Cavendish Square, London. The conditions for the bequest to the United States are: "In the case of the death of my said Nephew [Henry James Hungerford] without leaving a child or children, or the death of the child or children he may have had under the age of twenty-one years or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my property, . . . to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men."More

Did you know...

That the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Castle is connected via underground tunnels to the Arts and Industries Building, National Museum of African Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, S. Dillon Ripley Center, and National Museum of Natural History?

Related Media

James Smithson Memorial Plaque, by Unknown, c. 1900, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 11812 or AI-11812 or 10226-A.
North Facade of Smithsonian Castle, by Unknown, c. 1920, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 27446 or MAH-27446.
Trees and Flowers with the Smithsonian Castle in the background, 1919, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA RU007355 [SIA2010-2085].
Japanese Armor in the Smithsonian Castle, 1873, by C. Seaver Jr.
Knickerbocker Snowstorm Hits Washington, D.C, January 29, 1922, Smithsonian Archives - History Div.
Smithsonian Institution Building, by Charles Hoover.
Smithsonian Commemorative Coin, STS-79, Designed by John M. Mercanti and Thomas D. Rogers, National Air and Space Museum, A19980084000.
Smithsonian Institution, n.d.