When April rolls around, many people think of the beautiful cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. The cherry blossom trees were a gift, made in 1912, from the people of Tokyo, Japan to the United States.
And nestled in among all of those blossoms is one of the most majestic of the national monuments, the Memorial to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, as one of the Founding Fathers of the Nation, was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. He later served as the 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809). His noted accomplishments included:
- the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803 that nearly doubled the size of the Nation;
- the commission of the famous Lewis and Clark exploratory expedition; and
- maintaining the security of the Nation by sending the US Navy to defeat the infamous Barbary pirates!
In 1934, it was President Franklin Roosevelt that felt that Jefferson should have a monument – the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument having already been constructed. After some length of time, John Russel Pope was selected to design the Memorial, which was ultimately based on a neo-classical dome with a portico based on the Pantheon in Rome. Jefferson himself had used some of the same features in his home in Monticello, VA.
Construction of the Memorial began in 1939. The statue of Jefferson at the center was created by Rudolf Evans. The 19-foot high image was originally cast in plaster as metal was rationed during WWII, but after the War was replaced with one cast in bronze.
Marble for the Memorial came from Vermont, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. The granite pedestal for the statue was a gift from Minnesota. The Memorial has 26 pillars – the number of states at the time of Jefferson’s death. On the panels of some of the interior walls are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777, in the VA House of Burgesses, and various letters penned by Jefferson.
The Memorial was completed on this date, April 13th in 1943, the 200th Anniversary of Jefferson’s birth.
Because the Memorial was in danger of sinking, a $12.4 million project for major seawall repairs was undertaken in 2010. The original timber pilings used to support the wall were probably not long enough to reach bedrock and were replaced. Many of the monuments in Washington, DC, were underpinned with pilings that reach bedrock, including 500 supporting the WWII Memorial.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Washington, DC, be sure to stop by the Jefferson Memorial. It is one of the few monuments that are still open 24 hours a day and admission is free!