The Smithsonian Institution Building, known fondly as “The Castle,” is captured here in an 1863 photograph showing the building in its original glory. Designed in a Norman-style and opened in 1855, the Castle sits majestically amidst landscaped grounds planned by Andrew Jackson Downing. The lush trees frame the sandstone building, with its central section and two towers topped jauntily with caps.
This view looking east up B Street (now Independence Ave) towards the unfinished Capitol dome also shows the Magnetic Observatory, the first Smithsonian building constructed in 1853. But the real star is the Castle itself, seen here prior to a 1865 fire that destroyed its central roof and tower caps. This photo allows us to glimpse the Smithsonian’s headquarters in its early heyday, before fire and time altered its appearance. Yet the grand old Castle remains the heart of the Smithsonian complex, a testament to the Institution’s longevity. Even without its roof and tower caps, the Norman-style building continues to be an iconic and beloved landmark on the National Mall.