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An Overview of The Famous Washington Monument

The Washington Monument, one of the most iconic attractions on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Dominating the skyline of Washington, DC the Washington Monument stands at 555 feet tall. It can be seen from miles around. Today many visitors wonder how it came to be and often describe it as “a pencil.”

But that’s not how it started out. Originally the Washington Memorial was planned to be a simple statue of George Washington on horseback! Then things changed on the ground, literally – the actual land around the hill where the Monument stands today was expanded by reclaiming swampland behind the White House- adding more acres to the National Mall.

Then Congress voted to change to a new, much larger, more powerful design by architect Robert Mills that we see today. Mill’s elegant obelisk- inspired by Egyptian, Greek and Roman obelisks was begun in 1848.

In the mid 1850’s funding for the Washington Monument ran out at the same time the American Civil War was brewing. Congress was deeply distracted by the impending War Between the States and the Washington Monument project was halted for almost 20 years. It was this long pause in construction at the 152-foot level that caused the color shift in the stone we can see today on the Washington Monument about one third of the way up. After 20 years of waiting for new funding, it was impossible to match the original stones!

Eventually, the Washington Monument was open for tours in 1884- complete with an Otis elevator – and for over one hundred years visitors either climbed the steps or rode the elevator for 12 minutes to the Observation Tower.

Then In 2011 more drama! A 5.8 earthquake centered in nearby Virginia caused colossal damage to the stone of the Washington Monument and its elevator. The earthquake led to the closure of the Monument for 3 years for basic repairs to the stonework. Then it re-opened only to be closed again for an additional 3-years when the elevator could no longer be repaired.

But by 2019 the Washington Monument was completely reopened –after a state-of-the-art elevator was installed. Free tickets (with small booking fee) are released daily for tours that include a 2-minute ride up to Observation Platform. The view from the Observation Platform is stunning, showcasing the entire National Mall and much of the District of Columbia below in all directions.

Because Washington Monument is high on a manmade hill, our tours generally do not stop at the base of the hill due to lack of a drop-off zone. However, The Monument will be all around you - our tours showcase the monument from all sides. At many of our stops you will easily be able to capture the Washington Monument from different angles and perspectives- it is extremely photogenic!!!


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