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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Judiciary Square in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The National Building Museum

Civil War to Civil Rights

 

—Downtown Heritage Trail —

 
National Building Museum Marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 16, 2009
1. National Building Museum Marker
Inscription.
“It’s too bad the damn thing is fire proof,” General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1887.

The nation’s only museum dedicated to American achievements in architecture, urban planning, construction, engineering, and design is appropriately housed in one of the most extraordinary structures in the nation’s capital.

Constructed between 1882 and 1887, this Italian Renaissance palace was built to house the Pension Bureau, which administered thousands of pensions owed Civil War soldiers and the families of those who died. It was designed by an engineer, Major General Montgomery C. Meigs, who had served the Union cause as Quartermaster General. General Meigs himself lost his son, John Rogers Meigs, in the Civil War. Some have called this building, with its symbolic parade of Union Forces, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of its day.

Although modeled on Rome’s Palazzo Farnese, its provisions for light, air circulation, and fireproofing made it the federal government’s first modern office building. Built in red brick rather than the white sandstone and marble of other federal buildings, it was ridiculed by many at the time. “It’s too bad the damn thing is fireproof,” said General William Tecumseh Sherman.

A 1,200-foot-long terra cotta frieze encircles the entire building, depicting
National Building Museum Marker - Photo on Reverse: image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 16, 2009
2. National Building Museum Marker - Photo on Reverse:
"Civil War infantrymen march around the National Building Museum in a 1,200-foot-long terra cotta frieze that surrounds the red brick structure." (National Building Museum.)
all the Union forces in the Civil War - infantry, cavalry, and artillery troops, and naval, quartermaster, and medical personnel. Inside, massive 75-foot-tall columns, made of brick and finished to look like marble, punctuate a 300-foot-long Great Hall. The Great Hall has been the site of 14 presidential inaugural balls, starting with Grover Cleveland’s in 1885, even before the building was completed.

Threatened with demolition in the 1960s, the building was saved by citizen action. It became home to the National Building Museum by an act of Congress in 1980.

[Photo Captions:]

left to right
Major General Montgomery C. Meigs, above, designed and built the Pension Building with a great hall reminiscent of a Renaissance palace. He use 15 ½ million bricks. (Library of Congress. Library of Congress. Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library.)

left
The Great Hall decorated for the inaugural ball of President William McKinley in 1901. (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

below
A portion of the terra cotta frieze which encircles the building honors the Union forces in the Civil War. (National Building Museum.)

 
Erected by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number e.3.)
 
Marker series. This marker
National Building Museum and marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 16, 2009
3. National Building Museum and marker
is included in the Civil War to Civil Rights, and the National Historic Landmarks marker series.
 
Location. 38° 53.836′ N, 77° 1.092′ W. Marker is in Judiciary Square, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is on F Street east of 5th Street, NW, on the right when traveling east. Click for map. The marker is across F Street from the National Building Museum, on the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Judiciary Square. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Discover DC / Judiciary Square (within shouting distance of this marker); National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Courthouse Reborn (about 500 feet away); Sitting in Judgment (approx. 0.2 miles away); Daniel Webster (approx. 0.2 miles away); Senator Daniel Webster (approx. 0.2 miles away); Cristoforo Colombo (approx. 0.2 miles away); DC Recorder of Deeds Building/WPA Era Murals (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Judiciary Square.
 
More about this marker. Photo on Reverse: Civil War infantrymen march around the National Building Museum in a 1,200-foot-long terra cotta frieze that surrounds the red brick structure. National Building Museum.
 
Also see . . .
The National Building Museum, frieze above west entrance image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, October 23, 2011
4. The National Building Museum, frieze above west entrance
- none of the Union's thousands of soldiers and sailors of African Descent are depicted in the building's famous friezes; however, one of the army quartermaster department's essential civilian employees (ineligible for the government pensions administered from this building and otherwise generally unsung) is prominently depicted with his mules and supply wagon at three different locations on the building's exterior.
 National Building Museum. "... a frieze sculpted by Caspar Buberl ... The sculpture includes infantry, navy, artillery, cavalry, and medical components, as well as a good deal of the supply and quartermaster functions, for it was in that capacity that Meigs had served during the Civil War. Meigs's correspondence with Buberl reveals that Meigs insisted that a Black teamster, who "must be a negro, a plantation slave, freed by war", be included in the quartermaster panel. This figure was ultimately to assume a central position, over the building's west entrance. ..." (Submitted on October 23, 2011, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.) 
 
Additional keywords. Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer - architects; Caspar Buberl - sculptor.
 
Categories. GovernmentMilitaryNotable BuildingsWar, US Civil
 
Infantry Troops image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, December 1, 2011
5. Infantry Troops
Artillery Section image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, December 1, 2011
6. Artillery Section
Sailors image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, December 1, 2011
7. Sailors
Original cornerstone of the Patent Office Bldg.: the National Building Museum, south entrance image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 12, 2012
8. Original cornerstone of the Patent Office Bldg.: the National Building Museum, south entrance
A.D. 1883
National Building Museum, interior image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 12, 2012
9. National Building Museum, interior
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,203 times since then and 3 times this year. Last updated on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.   4. submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.   5, 6, 7. submitted on , by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.   8, 9. submitted on , by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on September 10, 2016.
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