There are beautiful buildings in DC. The White House, the Capitol, Union Station. One of the most stately and elaborate buildings, inside and out, is the Library of Congress.
The actual collections that makes up the library began in 1800, created by an act of Congress. Basically, John Adams wanted all the documents necessary for running the government to be stored in one place, and that they be accessible in the new capital, Washington DC. Originally, the collection was held in the Capitol building. But, in 1814, the Capitol was burned by the British as part of the War of 1812. Immediately, Thomas Jefferson offered his library as a replacement for books lost in the blaze.
As the country grew, so to did the collections housed by the Library. In 1873, Congress was convinced that they needed to create a building specifically for the Library. However, it took until 1886 for plans to be approved. The building was designed by John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz in the Italian Renaissance style.
General Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers,was placed in charge of construction in 1888. He put his son, Edward Pearce Casey, in charge of the interior work. Edward Casey selected 50 American artists to create the frescos, murals, mosaics and statues that are seen throughout the LOC.
EP Casey opted to highlight the intent of the building as a temple to knowledge. Quotes are placed above windows and doors that highlight the pursuit of learning and the beauty of intelligence. Mosaics and murals depict gods and deities dedicated to the arts and sciences. Down the main stairs are cherubs that depict the dominant professions of the late nineteenth century. In alcoves above the windows that look out to the Capitol and the National Mall are famous authors and philosophers.
When the LOC opened on November 1, 1897, lines stretched around the block! The general population was excited to visit the first government building that was lit using electricity. Today, some of the original fixtures can still be seen, especially in the torches carried by the statues at the bottoms of both main stairways.
In front of the library is a large water feature. Unlike many other fountains in the District, this one has an intricate scene that serves as the focus.
Neptune sits in the middle of the tableau, surrounded by sea serpents and water nymphs riding horses. It is stunning, and really needs to be seen in person.
Luckily, the LOC is open most days, except federal holidays. And they give free, guided tours! On the tour, the very knowledgeable docent will guide you through the whole library, including the reading room that is typically limited to registered readers only. As a bonus, it is free to become a registered reader, which gives you access to the whole library and all of its collections.
On your next visit to the Library of Congress, be sure to stop on the second floor, near the floor to ceiling windows to check out the great view of the Capitol and Mall.