Sunday, January 25, 2015

Interesting facts about the Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Institution Building, perhaps more commonly known as "The Castle", is a striking building located on the National Mall. You really can't miss it, it's a beautiful building.

Built on the mall between 1847 and 1855, throughout the centuries, the building has served the Smithsonian Institute in many capacities, including an exhibit hall up until the 1960s. Today the building is primarily used for administrative purposes and to house the Smithsonian Information Center.

Interesting facts about the Smithsonian Castle:
  • The Smithsonian Institute was developed thanks to a gift of $500,000 from James Smithson
  • The Castle was chartered by Congress in 1846
  • James Renwick Jr., a famous architect, designed the Castle building
  • The building was constructed from red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Md.
  • Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian lived in the Castle with his family. A statue of Henry stands in front of the building.
  • Originally the Castle stood alone, but over time government buildings and other museums were built around it
  • A devastating fire destroyed a large portion of the Castle in 1865. 
  • The crypt of James Smithson is located near the Castle's north entrance (I have to go find this, I did not know this until writing this post).
  • In 1977 the Smithsonian Institution Building was designated as a National Historic Landmark

The Smithsonian Institution Building is located at 1000 Jefferson Dr., SW right on the National Mall. You can't miss it if you take the Metro (Orange Line) and get off at the Smithsonian station. The Castle is open daily, except Christmas Day.

If you're visiting, most of the attractions you'll want to see are also located at this stop. When emerging from the Metro station, you can see many of the famous landmarks and other museums from this position.

Additional sources consulted:


  1. Another wonderful and informative post, Leigh! Fascinating stuff here!

    1. Thanks so much William for your kind words and for stopping by :)

  2. I am a single mom and have a 13 yo daughter... Times have been tough but this year when I do my taxes my dAughter wants to visit the Smithsonian. We live in York, PA so we will have to stay over night. I plan on taking a bus or train into DC to the museum. I was wondering if you have any suggestions on inexpensive lodging or must see' s or have to do' s while we are there.

    1. Hi AshleesMum, thanks for stopping by. Sorry for the late reply, I was out of town.

      There are several Smithsonian Museums in DC and most of them are right near each other on the National Mall. Most kids love the National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History and the National Air & Space Museum. There are a number of other museums as well (see this page:

      If time permits, you might be interested in scheduling a Capitol tour (you can reserve tickets online - I have more information here: If you can reserve an early time, tours start around 8:30 a.m., you can do this before the museums open at 10 a.m.).

      You'll see many of the memorials from the National Mall by the museums if you don't have time to walk around to see them close up (but if you do, I recommend it!)

      Unfortunately, I am not sure where to steer you in terms of lodging, but staying in DC can be kind of pricey and many people often stay across the Potomac River in Virginia. On the plus side, there are lots of Metro rail and bus stations that will get you to DC relatively quickly.

      There is really so much to see, what I recommend is you have your daughter check out the Smithsonian museum pages to get an idea of what she wants to see, so you can plan anything else you want to do that fits your time frame. (As an aside, April/spring break is an extremely busy time with long lines).

      I hope you have a wonderful trip! If you have any other questions please ask away :)

    2. For lodging, I recommend maybe checking out TripAdvisor to see what people are saying re: price and cleanliness, etc., that's what I usually do when I travel. There may be some good budget hotels downtown.