Thomas Jefferson Memorial Features

The Building: Exterior

 
blue sky behind white thomas jefferson memorial
This photo, taken from the memorial plaza, shows the terraced steps, portico and triangular pediment, and the open air circular rotunda.  Note the Jefferson statue can be seen inside.

NPSPhoto.

 
The Jefferson Memorial building is a circular, open-air structure featuring a shallow dome supported by a circular colonnade composed of 26 Ionic columns. An additional 12 columns support the north portico, and 4 columns stand in each of the memorials 4 openings. The memorial is constructed of white Imperial Danby marble from Vermont and it rests upon a series of granite and marble-stepped terraces. A flight of granite and marble stairs and platforms, flanked by granite buttresses, lead up from the Tidal Basin. The stairs rise to a portico with a triangular pediment, which features a sculpture by Adolph A. Weinman, depicting the five members of the drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence submitting their report to Congress. A dentiled cornice with an egg and dart molding surrounds the pediment, below which is a plain frieze.
 

The Building: Interior

 
woman in orange Sari taking photo of Jefferson Memorial statue
The Jefferson Statue, standing 19 feet tall atop its pedestal, is surrounded by columns, quotes from Jefferson and the coffered ceiling above. NPSphoto by AnthonyDeYoung.
 

The Jefferson Memorial interior is constructed of white Georgia marble with an axed finish, and the floor is made of pink Tennessee marble. The interior freize is topped by a dentiled cornice and a massive Indiana limestone dome. The dome's interior is divided into two parts: the lower section has a coffered surface containing lights that illuminate the statue and the upper section has a smooth, uninterrupted surface.

 
the jefferson statue

The Statue:
Rudulph Evans' bronze statue of Jefferson stands centered in the chamber on a black Minnesota granite pedestal, which is inscribed with the dates of Jefferson's birth and death (1743-1826). The statue depicts Jefferson in mid-life, holding the Declaration of Independence in his left hand.

 
white marble wall with quote in it, bronze of wreath above quote and white marble bench below

Quotations:
Four quotations from Jefferson's writings are carved into the walls of the memorial chamber. An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, the document for which Jefferson is best known, is located on the southwest wall. The southeast wall features a statement on the evolution of law and the constitution, which was taken from a letter written to Samuel Kercheval in 1816.

The northwest wall is inscribed with a combination of six quotations taken primarily from Jefferson's "1786 Notes of Virginia" and "Summary Views," which illustrate his beliefs in the evils of slavery and the need to educate the masses. The northeast wall contains a quote from the "Act of Religious Freedom," which was adopted in 1779 and eliminated the state church of Virginia; this quote expresses Jefferson's views on freedom of religion.

A fifth quote is engraved on the freize encircling the memorial's interior. This quote "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," is taken from an 1800 letter from Jefferson to Benjamin Rush.

 

The Memorial Landscape

 
Jefferson Memorial surrounded by greenery
Shrubs and a large white pine are part of the more informal landscape of the Jefferson Memorial. NPSphoto
 

The Jefferson Memorial sits on the south side of the Tidal Basin on reclaimed land created during the construction of Hains Point. After reclamation and before the memorial was built, the area of newly created parkland was planted with trees and lawn. This area was often use for swimming by city residents. Japanese cherry trees were planted on the site in 1912 when the Mayor of Tokyo presented three thousand trees to the city.

Well-known 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the memorial landscape. The Olmsted planting plan installed at the time of construction featured a simple design within a circular driveway; primarily evergreen trees with limited flowering trees and shrubs. The design was perceived as too thin, so white pines were added and some other plantings took place before the dedication in 1943. Many changes to Olmsted's plans occurred in the 1970s, and restorations in 1993 and 2000 have attempted to restore integrity to Olmsted's altered design.

 
couple at right sites on Jefferson steps overlooking tidal basin and washington monument

Views and Vistas
Once the site for the Jefferson Memorial was chosen, there was never any question about its visual relationship with the White House - a direct line. In fact, President Roosevelt ordered trees to be cut so that the view of the memorial from the White House would be enhanced. As the National Park Service manages most of the land in the viewshed from the Jefferson Memorial to the White House, the commanding view from the memorial across the Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument and White House remains largely unchanged.

At the time of construction, much thought was also given to the relationship between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Additional tree pruning was completed to ensure a narrow view from one memorial to the other.

Last updated: October 6, 2017

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