The archives building in the ‘Federal Triangle’ was established to preserve and care governmental records. This triangular area is home to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and features federal buildings including the White House and the Capitol Building. Constructed in the 1930’s, the site is one of the monumental projects ever in the history of America. The main archives in the rotunda include ‘Charters of Freedom’ namely the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The neoclassical building also houses Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803) and Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln (1863).
Origin of the Archives
Prior to its establishment which coincided with the Great Depression, the records that include paperwork, manuscripts, and photographs, were stored in several government agencies. Due to misplacement of the archives, Congress commissioned John Russell Pope to design the building and choose the location. The 31st President of United States, Herbert Hoover laid the foundation in 1933 dedicating the Archives Building to the American citizens.
In the foundation, the leaving President placed manuscripts of Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the National Flag, alongside copies of Washington dailies. More than 8500 piles were driven into the uneven soil prior to constructing a concrete bowl as the cornerstone. Contracts were given to suppliers and while granite was used for the foundation, limestone was used for the superstructure akin to other buildings in the area. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd American President, signed the legislation in 1934 commissioning National Archives as an independent agency. The staff inhabited the building in 1935 and the construction completed in 1937.
The building has been subject to renovation since. In 1952, the ‘Charters of Freedom’ was archived inside airtight encasements sealed with helium gas for close to five decades. In the 1970’s, as a preparation for the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence, the national archives underwent a renovation. In the 1980’s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory equipped the archives with scanning facilities as a monitoring system. In 2001, the ‘Charters of Freedom’ were removed from the rotunda in order to analyze its condition.
New encasements were made in preparation for another renovation amid 2001 to 2005. The three main documents, which shaped American history, were again displayed in 2003, in airtight encasements. The displays also feature scanning equipment that enables visitors to view them easily including those having disabilities. The galleries are now more spacious following renovations in 2013.
While the prospect of paying a visit can be overwhelming, the galleries are fun and interactive featuring terminals, booths, and digital displays, which are kid-friendly. Some of the displays mimic video games aside from temporary exhibits and permanent ones, which lure the attention of visitors of all demography. The National Archives Rotunda that resembles a cathedral houses 14 displays, which chronicle the important events in American history and their influence.
David M. Rubenstein Gallery, for instance, houses an exhibit that chronicle treasure copies of Magna Carta signed by King Edward I, the foundation of the U.S Constitution. It also traces back to the period of American Civil Rights Movement to go with a copy of the Civil Rights Act, 1964. The vaults exhibit a mosaic of records preserved by the archives and they are all thematic in nature.
You can get info on familial past and heritage, civil legislative and defense laws, past exploration and preservation, the valor of staffs, and citizenship and founding. The independent agency of the American governance also gives visitors some advice on how to preserve familial records. Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery exhibits the amendments in the Constitution and reveals how issues such as child labor, women’s right to vote, and civil rights were addressed. Besides, the William G. McGowan Theater displays documentary films on the bond between citizens, the democracy, and the archival documents.
The ‘East Rotunda Gallery’ is home to an exhibit, which chronicles a historic chapter much like Civil Rights Act, and the Coca-Cola patenting during WW II. For children, the Boeing Learning Center is the place to be.
How to Reach
While entrance to the research wing resides at the Pennsylvania Avenue, the entrance to the National Archives Museum resides on the Constitution Avenue, one of the main streets in DC. However, the parking facility is limited adjacent to the building. There is one Metro station nearby which alight green and yellow line trains, and circulator buses too to take you there.
While the prospect of traveling by tube would miss you the opportunity to see the cityscapes, you can come aboard combination tours covering attractions in Capitol Hill including the Supreme Court Building and Washington Monument among others. The best time to visit includes the weekend of Thanksgiving and the week between December 25 and January 1. Note that the place is much crowded even during the school vacation during March to May.