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Washington, D.C.’s Monuments Memorialize The Country’s Past

No good story written or told about the United States of America is truly complete without at least an appearance from the capital, Washington, D.C. If it doesn’t get a starring role, it is the keeper of secrets, the preserver of history, and the home of its literal halls of power.

It could be a brown corduroy-clad Robert Redford and a chain-smoking Dustin Hoffman beating it up and down the alphabetized streets digging for the story as Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein in “All The President’s Men.” It could also be Benjamin Gates, in his smart tux, smuggling out the Declaration of Independence under a hail of gunfire to preserve the mysteries of our founding fathers in “National Treasure.” 

However represented, the District of Columbia is as much a main character in the story of America as any human being who has lived in or fought for the USA.

The story of the city is itself another one of happenstance.

During the War for Independence, while based originally in Philadelphia, the young nation’s capital city moved many times, from Princeton, NJ, to New York City, NY, and back to Philadelphia before finally being designated as a parcel of federal land upon which the seat of power of the U.S. would sit in 1800.

Just like that, a humid swamp in the mid-Atlantic became the beating heart of a new country.

Over two centuries later, Washington, D.C., still stands, despite nearly falling during the War of 1812 at the hands of the British and again during the American Civil War at the hands of rebels from the southern states.

The American capital has grown symbolically and practically over the years as well. As a main thoroughfare through the eastern seaboard and a major tourist attraction, its sights and monuments are recognizable worldwide. This flurry of activity has made the District a hotspot for political and economic power players worldwide and just a great American city to live in.

There is very little that D.C. doesn’t have to offer, from Major League Baseball to the Smithsonian. But perhaps the greatest gift within its relatively small confines are its monuments to history, specifically to great Americans who shaped their country.

Most Americans know a little something about the major monuments that spring up on the D.C. map. However, when it comes to something more than what can be learned from a sixth-grade school trip, there remains a plethora of information and inspiration waiting to be gleaned from these incredible sites.

Below is a little more insight into these D.C. treasures:

Washington Monument: Perhaps the most recognizable human-made structure on this side of the Eiffel Tower is the world-famous Washington Monument, created for and named after the first American president, George Washington. Constructed for a man historians say was “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the hearts of his countrymen,” the monument was designed by Robert Mills — later completed by Thomas Casey and the U.S. Corp of Engineers — as an Egyptian-style obelisk that would reach some 600 feet high. It is a tribute to the timelessness of the man it represents and the near-godlike regard with which he was held, even after his death. Although the project changed hands many times over the decades, the monument was finally completed and dedicated on Feb. 21, 1885. It stands to this day as a shining beacon of hope and reverence to the very first U.S. president.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument: A slightly lesser known, but no less important, monument can be found not too far from Washington’s giant spire reaching into the heavens. The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument is where the National Women’s Party made their home for more than 90 years. From this relatively unassuming house, Alice Paul and other trailblazing women fought for and eventually won greater equality for women. President Barack Obama designated the house as a National Monument in April 2016, and the house from where so much righteous change sprung forth awaits to give visitors greater insight into the amazing women who helped shape this country.

Photo Courtesy NPS 

Theodore Roosevelt Island: It seems fitting that America’s most verbose and, in some ways, ostentatious president should get an entire island dedicated to his memory and legacy. In truth, Theodore Roosevelt Island, named so for the 26th president, is a humble remembrance of his most enduring legacy: conservation. During the 1930s, this small, overgrown island was reimagined as a “real forest” for D.C. residents and visitors alike to enjoy under the name of the president most responsible for conserving some of the nation’s greatest natural wonders. Indeed, President Roosevelt even established the National Parks system, so it’s only fitting that his monument be a literal nature sanctuary, offering visitors miles of nature trails and stunning scenery.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Thomas Jefferson Memorial: The memorial for the architect and main author of one of the most critical documents in American history, The Declaration of Independence, stands in a familiar and fitting place on the map of Washington, D.C.: a straight line away from The White House. While its namesake, Thomas Jefferson, would reside at the presidential residence — the “White House” was not built or completed during his time — for two terms in the early 19th century, his legacy is larger than just that of a politician. In many ways, without Jefferson’s vision as the architect of a burgeoning America, the nation would have, and could still, look quite different today. The Jefferson Memorial stands in his honor and offers a wealth of knowledge and history to all who visit its confines. 

Photo Courtesy NPS

Lincoln Memorial: Few presidents occupy the average American’s imagination and reverence as the “simple, country lawyer from a log cabin” who saved the Union: Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps no president ever faced such dire crises as Lincoln after the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter in early 1861, kicking off a bloody, relentless civil war. Through immense strength of character, unwavering commitment to the republic, and unshakeable faith in his country, President Lincoln held a fractured nation together, if only just so, for four years during the War Between the States. The feat preserved the Union and cemented the young country’s status as not a collection of disparate territories but as one unified nation. Felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1865, the Lincoln Memorial stands in his honor as a tribute to the very best of what America is and can be. 

Photo Courtesy NPS

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Despite the immense sacrifice and unimaginable struggle to free African Americans during the American Civil War, culminating in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the struggle for justice and racial equality was and is far from over. As one preacher’s son from the South would go on to show the world and his country, that fight never stops, and this memorial, commissioned in downtown Washington, D.C., to honor the great Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands as a stark reminder of the fight still left to be had. Visitors to Dr. King’s monument can read and reflect on his words etched in the stone and learn more about the remarkable life of a tireless warrior for justice, freedom, and equality. As each new generation faces its own version of the fight for greater and more widespread civil rights, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is a welcome and solemn inspiration to every citizen searching for a brighter, fairer tomorrow.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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