Calvin Coolidge at the White House, Washington DC

President Calvin Coolidge on the South Lawn of the White House in 1925. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

Presidents

The South Lawn in 2012:

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In my previous post on the White House, I mentioned some of the changes that have occurred to the building since it was first occupied by John Adams, so I’m not going to go into great detail about the structure itself.  What I do find interesting about these two photos is not the building itself, but rather the people in the photos.  President Coolidge is clearly visible in the first photo, but look carefully at the second photo – President and Mrs. Obama are sitting on the second floor balcony, right between the two middle pillars.  So, not only do these two photos document changes in the building, in transportation (note the truck to the right of Coolidge, compared to the SUV on the left-hand side of the 2012 photo), and in presidential security (note the lack of Secret Service agents in Coolidge’s photo); they also document two presidents, who served 80 years apart, and who held very different political views, but who nonetheless occupied the same office and the same building.

Washington Monument, Washington DC

The Washington Monument, around 1860. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Brady-Handy Collection.

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The monument in 2012:

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Ever notice how the bottom third of the Washington Monument is a few shades lighter than the upper part?  The top photo shows why. Taken by noted Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, it shows the monument during the long stoppage in construction.  The construction started in 1848, and made it about 150 feet up by 1854, when work was halted, at first due to fundraising issues and later because of the Civil War.  Construction resumed in 1877, and was completed in 1884, at the height of 555 feet.  It was topped off with a 100-ounce aluminum apex.  At the time, aluminum was a precious metal, and it also served as a lightning rod.

Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument, Washington DC

The view of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922, the day that it was dedicated, from the Washington Monument. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection.

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The same view in 2006:

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Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool are iconic images of Washington DC, but in 1922 they were brand new features on previously swampy, vacant land.  Today they remain largely the same, but the surrounding area has changed. Across the river, the city of Arlington has been built up, and two bridges are now visible in the scene, connecting it to DC.  In DC itself, one obvious difference is the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, which are on the right-hand side of the photo.  The “temporary” buildings were built in 1918, but they remained in use until 1970, when they were demolished and replaced with the Constitution Gardens as seen in the 2006 photo.

Lincoln Memorial Dedication, Washington DC

The view from the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

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The same view in 2006:

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The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial attracted quite a crowd, which contrasts with the dreary, deserted view of the same scene 84 years later.  Other than the people, though, the scene remains similar. The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool are still there, although the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings, barely visible beyond the trees to the left in 1922, are long gone now.

Old Executive Building, Washington DC

The Old Executive Office Building around 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

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In 2012:

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Originally built as the State, War, and Navy Building, and completed in 1888, it remains much the same as it was around 1909, despite having changed its function.  Today, it is used by various executive departments, including the Office of the Vice President, as it is located directly adjacent to the White House (the white house is immediately to the left of the photos)

However, probably the most unusual thing in either photo is the presence of a cow in the 1909 photo.  It is, in fact, a real cow, and was actually kept for agricultural purposes by none other than William Howard Taft.  In the days before refrigeration, the best way to ensure an ample supply of fresh milk was by actually keeping a cow on the White House grounds.  Named Pauline Wayne, the cow provided milk for the Taft family for about a year and a half, and was the last cow to reside at the White House [insert joke about President Taft’s weight here].

Old Capitol Prison, Washington DC

The Old Capitol Prison, around 1863. Photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of the National Archives.

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The building around 1866. Photo by William R. Pywell, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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Between 1910 and 1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same location in 2012:

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Clearly, much has changed in 147 years at the corner of 1st St. NE and A St. NE.  The building in the first two photos (which is actually the same building in the third photo) is the Old Capitol Prison.  As its name suggests, the building once served as the temporary United States Capitol.  After the Capitol was burned in the War of 1812, this building was hastily built to serve as the Capitol until the repairs could be completed.

After Congress and the Supreme Court returned to the Capitol in 1819, the building was used as a private school and later as a boarding house.  It was in this boarding house that former Vice President John C. Calhoun died in 1850; years earlier he had served as a Representative from South Carolina in the same building.  During the Civil War, the building was used as a prison, and in 1867 it was sold and converted into rowhouses, as seen in the third photo.  In 1929, it was demolished to allow for the construction of the US Supreme Court building, which, as seen in the 2012 photo, remains on the site today.