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.

Drewry’s Bluff, Chesterfield County, Virginia

The view looking down the James River from Drewry’s Bluff, in 1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in 2012:

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When the top photo was published on a stereo card in 1865, the caption was “One reason why we did not go to Richmond.”  Indeed, this gun was perhaps the reason why Richmond wasn’t taken until the very end of the Civil War.  As seen in the photos, the gun overlooks a long, downstream section of the James River.  Built as part of Fort Darling, it was located downstream of Richmond, so any attacking Union naval force had to contend with this and two other guns at the fort in order to reach the capital.  An attempt was made in 1862, and five navy ships, including the famed USS Monitor, headed upstream.  At Drewry’s Bluff, the wooden ships were unable to advance, so the ironclad Monitor did.  However, the Monitor’s guns didn’t elevate enough to reach the top of the 90-foot cliff, so the Union forces had to retreat.  Another attempt was made in 1864 to capture the fort, but this too failed, and the fort remained in Confederate hands up until the final days of the war.

Today, the site of the fort is preserved by the National Park Service, and the cannon in the 2012 photo is an original cannon, although not necessarily the same one in the 1865 photo.  The carriage beneath the cannon, however, is a modern reproduction.

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.