Washington DC - The Grounds Of The Capitol
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
THE grounds of the Capitol comprise an open court on the eastern, and a grand terrace on the western side — in all, forty-six acres of park, laid out in an attractive manner, and planted with a great variety of luxuriant trees and a wide range of shrubbery, which afford pleasing contrasts of form and color. The design has been to arrange the grounds for convenience of business with Congress and the Supreme Court, and also to fitly support and present the Capitol to ad-vantage. When the government first took possession of the tract it was overgrown with " scrub oaks," and had a soil of stiff clay, dusty in dry, and like mortar in wet weather. For many years it was merely an open common, with roads and paths crossing it in all directions. At the base of the hill, on the west, flowed the Tiber Creek, a little stream with rugged sycamore trees overhanging its banks. In the early spring it was not fordable, and the small bridge was often washed away by freshets. Congressmen in riding to the Capitol were frequently compelled to secure their horses on the farther side, and to pick their way across the swollen stream on fallen trees. Ten years ago the Tiber Creek was utilized for the sewer system of the city, and now forms a natural sewer much larger than the famous sewers of Paris. It runs through the city and empties into the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. Its course is covered by streets, under which the tide ebbs and flows.
President Washington planted a number of trees in the park on the north of the Capitol, and one of these, known as the Washing-ton Elm," still remains. It is likely to outlive many more Presidents, as it is well cared for and in a flourishing condition. In 1825 the grounds were laid out for the first time with some attempt at system. Rows of trees, flower-beds, grass-plats, and gravel walks were arranged. A few years later, more land was enclosed, and numerous trees planted. In the eastern court two "barbecue groves" were made, one for the Democrats, and the other for the Whigs, to hold their meetings and jubilations in. The system of landscape gardening now in use was begun soon after the Capitol was reconstructed. Around the building on the western side an architectural terrace is to be constructed, which will greatly add to the ornamentation of the grounds. There are forty-six carriage and foot entrances from the streets on all sides, well paved with concrete and smooth stone, and the entire park is enclosed by low walls, with handsomely ornamented coping, posts, and gateways. Many trees and shrubs from foreign countries are growing vigorously. They are properly described by means of labels attached to them, and visitors are thus enabled to gain accurate knowledge of the varieties. The park is largely used as a place of public resort in spring and summer, and the government has provided pretty rustic arbors and resting-places, drinking-fountains of pure spring water, and plenty of wide, comfortable seats under lofty trees for the use of all who seek this pleasant, sylvan retreat.
IN the eastern court, fronting the central portico, is a colossal marble statue of Washington, by Horatio Greenough. The statue was executed in Italy, and its cost, including the pedestal and transportation, was nearly $45,000. Congress ordered it in 1832, and ten years later it was placed in the centre of the Rotunda of the Capitol. Subsequently it was removed to its present location. Greenough was a native of Boston, and died near that city in 1852, after a long residence abroad. In writing of the statue he said, " It is the birth of my thought, and I have sacrificed to it the flower of my days and the freshness of my strength; its every lineament has been moistened with the sweat of my toil and the tears of my exile. I would not barter away its association with my name for the proudest fortune avarice ever dreamed of." Washington is represented seated in a Roman chair adorned with lions' heads and the acanthus leaf. The figure is nude to the waist, with a mantle draped round the lower part and extending over the right shoulder. The right hand points toward heaven, and the left holds a sheathed sword. On the sides of the chair are allegories of Phoebus-Apollo driving the chariot of the sun, and Hercules strangling the serpent. On the back is a Latin inscription, which is freely translated, This statue is for a great example of liberty, nor without liberty will the example endure." The granite pedestal is inscribed with the famous eulogy on Washington, uttered by Gov. Henry Lee, of Virginia: " First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
At the foot of Capitol Hill, near the main entrance to the western park, is the Naval Monument, or Monument of Peace, executed in Italy by Franklin Simmons. It is inscribed, " In memory of the officers, seamen, and marines of the United States Navy, who fell in defence of the Union and liberty of their country, 1861-1865." It is of pure Italian marble, and rises to a height of forty-four feet, and rests on an elaborate granite pedestal, which contains a fountain. It cost $21,000, and the pedestal cost $20,000. At the top are large figures representing America, and History. America is weeping, while History holds a tablet on which she has written, They died that their country might live." A figure portraying Victory stands below the other figures, holding aloft a wreath of laurel in her right hand, and at her feet are miniature images of Mars and Neptune. On the back of the monument is a figure of Peace bearing an olive-branch, and surrounding the figure are models of agricultural implements and products. This fine memorial was erected from funds contributed by members of the navy, and the pedestal from an appropriation by Congress.