Explore the Southern Trail
Last updated: July 23, 2015
White House Visitor Center
Construction of the Commerce building began on October 4, 1927, when Herbert C. Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce. The cornerstone was laid on July 10, 1929, when Hoover was President, and the building was completed in 1932.
The Great Hall, 225 feet long and 62 feet wide, was originally used as the Patent Search Room for more than three million patents catalogued by the Department of Commerce. In celebration of our country's two hundredth birthday, the Hall became the Bicentennial Visitor Center in 1976. Until 1989, it housed the Washington Tourist Information Center.
Renovations began in July 1993 with the restoration of the ornate plaster ceiling. The intent was to restore the simple elegance of the Great Hall. The original Indiana limestone walls, bronze doors, Vermont marble base and accent flooring, and Italianate bronze chandeliers were cleaned and refurbished.
The center opened in March 1995. It is designed to offer a welcoming experience and provide visitors with history and information the White House and President's Park. It is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
The White House Historical Association has a museum shop in the Visitor Center.
Boy Scout Memorial
The memorial to the Boy Scouts of America stands on the site of the first Boy Scout Jamboree in 1937. It is one of the few memorials in Washington, D.C. commemorating a living cause. The funds to build this memorial were raised by Scout units throughout the United States, and each donor signed one of several scrolls that were placed in the pedestal of the statue. The memorials was unveiled in a ceremony on November 7, 1964. The statue was accepted for the country by Associate Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, who noted that the day marked his fiftieth anniversary as an Eagle Scout.
The bronze statue consists of three figures. The Boy Scout represents the aspirations of all past, present, and future Scouts throughout the world. The male figure exemplifies physical, mental, and moral fitness, love of country, good citizenship, loyalty, honor, and courage. He carries a helmet, a symbol of masculine attire. The female figure symbolizes enlightenment with the love of God and fellow man, justice, freedom, and democracy. She holds the eternal flame of God's Holy Spirit.
Original Patentees Memorial
The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution donated the Settlers of the District of Columbia Memorial in April 1935 "as a way of teaching history." The simple granite shaft stands near the sidewalk along Fifteenth Street. Its purpose is to remember the original eighteen patentees "prior to 1700 whose land grants embraced the site of the federal city." A patentee is someone to whom a grant is given. In this case, the grant was ownership of land that became the District of Columbia.
Each side of the monument contains a relief panel carved with a symbol of the early pioneers' agricultural pursuits. On the east side is a tobacco plant, on the south a wild turkey, on the west a stalk of corn, and on the north a fish. The names of the original landowners are inscribed on the base.
Built in 1828, these sandstone guardians silently watched over the U.S. Capitol grounds until 1874. In 1889, this gatehouse and its twin, located on Seventeenth Street and Constitution Avenue, were reconstructed in their present locations.
These houses have weathered several floods, water, and the effects of acid rain. On the southeast side are markers indicating the high-water marks during floods.
First Lady Claudia Taylor (Lady Bird) Johnson created the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital. Part of her dream was to "frame the White House in water."
Each fountain is made from an enormous slab of granite 18 feet square, nearly a foot thick, and weighing 55 tons. The granite was quarried in Morton, Minnesota, from rock more than 3.5 million years old.
These rainbow granite monoliths were a gift of publishing magnate Mrs. Enid Haupt. The fountains frame the White House on the main north-south axis at Sixteenth Street and Constitution Avenue.
The southern part of President's Park is the Ellipse, a large open area surrounded by an oval drive.
Its development began in the 1850s but was cut short first by a lack of funds and then by the Civil War. The site has been used a trash dump, horse pens, and a slaughterhouse. Soldiers were housed here during the Civil War.
The Ellipse is used for many community gatherings and functions, including musical performances during the summer. Recreational activities are also held in this open area. Many demonstrations take place here, as people exercise their rights of free speech and assembly.
Second Division Memorial
This memorial honors the 17,660 dead who served. in the Second Division of the United States Army. It was originally built to commemorate the division's casualties in World War I and was dedicated on July 18, 1936. Later, two wings were dedicated on June 20, 1962, with significant battles of World War II inscribed on the west and of the Korean War on the east.
This granite shaft, built in the form of a great open doorway, has two wreaths carved in relief flanking the entrance.
Guarding the gateway is an 18-foot-tall flaming sword, symbolically blocking the German advance to Paris. The Second Division's insignia, an Indian head within a star, is embossed on the sword's handle (or hilt).
National Christmas Tree
In November 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House.
The organizers named the tree the "National Christmas Tree." That Christmas Eve, at 5 p.m., President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and "pushed the button" to light the cut 48-foot Balsam fir, as 3,000 enthusiastic spectators looked on. The tree, donated by Middlebury College, was from the President’s native state of Vermont.
From 1924 to 1953 live trees, in various locations around and on the White House grounds, were lit on Christmas Eve. In 1954 the ceremony returned to the Ellipse and expanded its focus. Local civic and business groups created the "Christmas Pageant of Peace." Smaller live trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, formed a "Pathway of Peace." On December 17, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower lit the cut tree donated by the people of Michigan. Cut trees continued to be used until 1973.
Center to the season’s celebration is the living National Christmas Tree, a Colorado blue spruce from York, Pennsylvania, planted on the Ellipse October 20, 1978. The tree stands as a daily reminder of the holiday spirit and of the tradition each succeeding President has participated in since 1923.
This four-foot-high shaft of pink granite stands on the north and south meridian of the District of Columbia. It is symbolically the official starting point for measurement of highway distances from Washington, D.C.
On July 7, 1919, the first transcontinental military motor convoy, destined from San Francisco, California, started from this spot. On June 5, 1920, Congress authorized the erection of a permanent monument here, and the Lee Highway Association presented it as a gift to the city on June 4, 1923.
All four sides of the monument are inscribed, and there is a bronze compass on top.
Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain
This fountain was erected with the contributions of friends of Major Archibald Wallingham Butt and Francis Davis Millet, who lost their lives on the RMS Titanic in April 1912. Both were widely know in Washington's cultural, social, and political circles.
Millet was a painter and a member of the Fine Arts Commission. He also directed the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Major Butt had been a military aide to both President Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The fountain is not far from where Major Butt's White House office was located.
The military figure with sword and shield represents Major Butt, and the artist with palette and brush represents Mr. Millet.
Besides being a memorial, the fountain was designed to double as a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.
White House South Lawn
For more than two hundred years, each president has left a unique mark on the grounds of the White House.
The grounds reveal a rich and colorful history. They were dreamed of by George Washington, defined by Thomas Jefferson, drained and filled by Ulysses S. Grant, and enriched with color and cover by many caretakers through the years.
During the administration of John Quincy Adams, the first floral garden and ornamental trees were planted in 1825. Early in the morning the president liked to dig in the flower beds and claimed in his diary to have planted more than a thousand trees here before he left office.
His successor, Andrew Jackson, continued and expanded the garden program, completing garden for kitchen and pleasure, as well as an orangery, where healthful fruits matured in the cold months.
In 1913 First Lady Ellen Wilson, first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, had a formal rose garden created just outside the West Wing of the White House. The Rose Garden was redesigned and expanded by President John F. Kennedy as an area to host presidential functions and accommodate outdoor ceremonies. In the 1960s, Mrs. Lyndon Johnson reconfigured the East Garden to feature seasonal flowers and dedicated it to Jacqueline Kennedy.
The South Lawn today is the site of many formal and informal functions. The president's helicopter lands here. Youth activities, including the annual Easter Egg Roll and T-ball games, are also held on these grounds. The First Family can enjoy the swimming pool, a small putting green, a jogging track, and a tennis court, all located on the South Grounds. Mrs. Lyndon Johnson also created the Children's Garden, a quiet, child-scaled retreat with a fish pool. Some of the paving stones are bronze castings of hands and footprints of children and grand-childrens of Presidents over the past thirty-five years.
The responsiblity for the preservation and updeep of the White House grounds was given to the National Park Service in 1961 by the U.S. Congress.
Last updated: July 23, 2015