April 19, 2021

The National Mall in Washington, DC

In this episode of Walking History we visit and discuss the detailed history of the National Mall in Washington, DC, one of the most iconic and historic spaces in America. We also look at the best ways to visit this incredible tourist attraction today.

The National Mall was first conceived by President George Washington’s handpicked designer for the new capital of Washington, DC, Pierre L’Enfant, in 1791. It has seen many changes from his original design, but the original intent remains, and today this sprawling, 2 mile wide green space host over 25 million visitors each year and is home to some of the most impressive cultural and historic museums, memorials and monuments in the country.

Want to jump ahead in this episode?

Overview of the National Mall: 2:55
Interesting Facts: 5:15
History of the National Mall: 6:20
Visiting the Mall Today: 12:30
Washington Monument: 22:00
WWII Memorial: 31:50
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 39:45
Lincoln Memorial: 48:00
MLK Jr. Memorial: 53:30
Jefferson Memorial: 1:00.15

 

The National Mall was first conceived in 1791, but throughout even the majority of the 1800s it looked very different than it does today. Originally, half the area we know of as the National Mall today was under water, and the only main structures visible were the White House, Capitol Building, a few museums, and the Washington Monument, which sat half finished for decades until its capstone was finally placed in 1884.
 

That all changed in 1902 with the adoption of the McMillan plan, which reimagined the National Mall as the centerpiece of the city as a vast, open, memorial and museum filled park. That’s exactly what it has become today, with the creation of world renowned museums such at the Air and Space Museum, Hirshorn Museum, National Gallery of Art and Holocaust Museum, just to name a few, stunning memorials and monuments honoring famous Americans like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr, and honoring veterans from wars including WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. It’s beautiful, wide open spaces attract tourists and locals alike, it has hosted some of the most famous marches and rallies in American history, was home to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and draws 1.5 million visitors each year during the few short weeks at the beginning of spring for the stunning Cherry Blossom Festival.
 

Let this episode be your guide as we travel to the National Mall and discuss its detailed history, including a deep-dive into 6 of its most iconic memorials and monuments, and discuss what it’s like to visit this beautiful and quintessentially American space, including visiting, parking and travel information.
 

Are you a fan of interesting facts? Jump ahead to discover the oldest structure still standing there today, where the term “Mall” comes from, and what happened after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the city in 2011.
 


Useful Links:

The National Park Service: The National Mall and Memorial Parks
PBS: The History of the National Mall
WaPo: How the Mall became what it is today