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Capitol Columns

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Published on May 27, 2013

Every place has its landmarks. One of Washington's most notable and unusual landmarks is the National Capitol Columns. The stately permanence of the Corinthian columns and careful siting on a natural knoll in the Ellipse Meadow makes them seem as if they have been there for a very long time. In fact, the National Capitol Columns are one of the most recent features added to the Arboretum, little more than a decade ago.

The columns began their life on the East Portico of the Capitol in 1828. They were quarried from sandstone near Aquia Creek in Virginia and were barged to Washington in the early days of our country, before the familiar Capitol dome was completed. Their stay at the Capitol was to be limited by an oversight. The dome of the Capitol, completed in 1864, appeared as if it was not adequately supported by the columns because the iron dome that was ultimately built was significantly larger than the dome that the designer envisioned. An addition to the east side of the Capitol was proposed to eliminate this unsettling illusion, but it was not constructed until 1958.

More time would pass before the columns would come to their final resting place. It was not until the 1980s that Arboretum benefactor Ethel Garrett took up the cause of establishing a permanent home for them.

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