Up on Capitol Hill
Washington Travel Blog› entry 5 of 66 › view all entries
Capitol Hill is a true hill on the Eastern side of the District of Columbia. Because of its elevated view over central Washington, Pierre L'Enfant selected it as the site for the US Capitol building. Today, "The Hill" is known primarily as home to the legislative and judicial branches of the US government, but it is also has an everyday residential and commerical side. Let's look at the "Nation's Neighborhood".
We'll start at Union Station, anchoring the north end of the Hill. Union Station opened in 1907 when all long distance travelers arrvived in Washington by train. Architect Daniel Burnham intended the station to be a grand gateway to the Nation's Capital.
You'll find Capitol Hill to be a mix of govenmental, residental, commerical, and historic buildings and activity. In the center is the U. S. Capitol building itself. The Capitol, with its signature dome, is iconic and one of the most immedately recognizeable of buildings. The Senate and House of Representatives meet and have their separate chambers in the Capitol. The House has its chamber in the south wing of the building and the Senate in the north. The Capitol is open to the public, but there can be a long wait to get in.
Three House Office Buildings line Independence Avenue to the south of the Capitol and three Senate Office Buildings are found to the north. In these buildings, each Member of Congress or Senator maintains an office and staff. The office buildings were built throughout the 20th Century and reflect styles of public architecture popular at the time of their construction.
Almost overshadowed by the large Senate office buildings is the Sewall-Belmont House. Built in 1800, it's one of oldest houses in Washington and a survivor of the burning of Washington in 1814. It became the headquarters of the National Woman's Party and today is a musem of the women's suffrage and equal rights movements.
Across First Street and directly facing the Capitol is the Library of Congress, the national library of the USA. The Library complex comprises three buldings: the Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. The Jefferson Building, opened in 1897, is the one most often thought of as the Library. As we approach the Jefferson Building, the first thing to capture our attention is the Neptune Fountain, with life-size statues of King Neptune and two Nereids riding horses. Inside the Jefferson are the decorated Main Reading Room and the marble Great Hall. The Adams Building might appear plain next to the Jefferson. But, closer insepction revals sets of bronze doors with Art Deco bas reliefs commemorating mytholocigal and historical figures in the story of writing.
The Supreme Court building is on First Street, adjacent to the Library of Congress. It's offset from directly facing the Capitol, as if to underscore the independence of the Judiciary. When a controversial case is being heard, demonstrators pro or con can be seen in front of the Court building.
Just up the street from the Library complex is the independently operated Folger Shakespeare Library, housing one of the preeminent research collections on Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Capitol Hill has always been a place for people to live as well as work. Eastern Market was established in 1873 as one of three public markets serving District residents. It's original function has been largely superseded by modern grocery stores, but it is still home to vendors of fresh produce, meats, and seafood.
Many historic churches are to be found around Capitol Hill. Walking below Independence Avenue to D and G Streets we find two examples. Christ Church was the first Episcopal Church established Washington. Benjamin Latrobe designed the Gothic Revival building, begun in 1824. Ebenezer United Methodist Church, founded in 1827, represents the oldest African-American congregation on The Hill. The present building was opened in 1897.
Anchoring the south side of Capitol Hill is the Marine Barracks at the head of 8th Street. The Marine Barracks is home to the famous U.S. Marine Band, "The President's Own", once directed by John Philip Sousa. The Marine Band performs in a public Evening Parade every Friday evening in Spring and Summer.