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The Story Behind The Iconic Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Learn the story behind the famous Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool! See how this iconic landmark has stood for decades as a symbol of American history.

The Reflecting Pool is a magical sight any time of the year and it certainly lives up to its name. In any season and at any time of day it reflects the Washington Monument when the viewer is standing on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial. When the viewer is standing at the edge of the World War II Memorial or on the hill at The Washington Monument it reflects the Lincoln Memorial. It is so captivating it appears in movies – Forrest Gump, Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Person of Interest, Spidermen: Homecoming have all included scenes shot on its banks!

But as beautiful and stately as it is today the Reflecting Pool has a murky past. Once the entire area between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial was a miserable swamp or equally repulsive mud flats! When George Washington sited the new Federal City on the banks of the Potomac those were the “existing conditions”.

But going all the way back to 1791 a new vision for the muck was created by Washington and architect, Pierre L’Enfant. The initial map that L’Enfant drew capturing the ideas that he and Washington had been discussing, included man-made waterways, reflecting pools and new streams where the local swamp and mudflats were located. But then, reality intervened. Washington and the Congress had to spend all their time creating a government and a country.

Fast forward 100 years! Washington, DC, was growing! City fathers needed a growth plan and they formed The McMillian Commission to look into the swamp problem as well as how to expand the future city. The commission realized soon that the original plan from 100 years before was brilliant and they used the Washington/L’Enfant map as the guide to transform and enlarge the National Mall. Today’s glamorous Reflecting Pool was initially designed by the commission to capture all the excess water drained from the infill used to fill in the mud flats.

There’s been many improvements over the last 100 years, but the Reflecting Pool has continued its Cinderella story and is now probably the most popular place on the National Mall for selfies and family portraits!


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