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Hoosier Vacations Then and Now: Washington, D.C.

July 12, 2019

We typically collect photos, documents, books and other materials that relate directly to Indiana or to the Old Northwest. But sometimes our collections include materials from out-of-state and even overseas. This is especially true with family photograph collections that document vacations Hoosiers have taken over the years.

My family and I just got back from our first big road trip to Washington, D.C., and Virginia, and my count of iPhone photos was 782! After carefully organizing, editing and uploading my photos at home, I got curious about past Hoosiers who visited Washington. I was surprised to find one family in our collections, the Walter N. Carpenter family of Indianapolis, visited D.C. several times between 1900 and 1930! They documented their first trip there – probably by train – in a photo album dated July 1905. My family’s trip was this July by minivan. It was both fascinating and fun for me to note the similarities and differences between our trips more than a century apart!

White House, 1905

White House, 1905

White House, 2019

White House, 2019

While the White House used to be more accessible to the public, security measures have increased over the years. Tourists used to be able to take a stroll right up to the White House North Portico. Today a reinforced fence, a layer of barricades and numerous guards prevent visitors from getting too close. The Secret Service began part-time protection of President Grover Cleveland in 1894. World Wars I and II significantly increased its security, and in 1995, Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to traffic in front of the White House. Since the September 11 attacks, security screenings are required for visitors, but a tour may still be arranged through your Indiana representative’s office at least 21 days in advance of your trip. (Can I just add, I feel for the ladies in Mr. Carpenter’s photo wearing their long, hot gowns in July 1905!)

Washington Monument, 1905

Washington Monument, 1905

Washington Monument, 2019

Washington Monument, 2019

Some aspects of the Washington Monument have not changed much since 1905. It still stands as a directional marker at the intersection of the invisible lines radiating south of the White House and west of the Capitol. You can still see where the construction of the monument halted from 1854 to 1876, by the difference in the color of the marble. You can still take an elevator to the top of the monument as Walter Carpenter did in 1905. Unfortunately, the elevator was undergoing renovations this summer, so we couldn’t see the spectacular view from the top. However, the reflecting pool shared by the Lincoln Memorial, built around the time it was completed in 1922, definitely adds a little something special to the view of the famous obelisk!

Mount Vernon, Virginia, 1905

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 1905

Mount Vernon, Virginia, 2019

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2019

The home of one of our Founding Fathers has always been a big draw since its opening to the public. Mount Vernon and a portion of its land was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1858 and was opened to the public shortly after. It has been maintained and supported by that organization ever since. The main difference you can see between 1905 and 2019 is the balustrade (ornamental railing) along the roofline that is no longer there. But the East Front Porch is still as inviting as ever with its chairs to sit and view the Potomac River.

View of White House from the Top of Washingotn Monument, 1905

View from the Top of Washingotn Monument, 1905

View of National Mall from the U.S. Capitol, 2019

View from the U.S. Capitol, 2019

The National Mall, “America’s front yard,” was still in its early stages of development when the Carpenter family visited DC in 1905. Many of the free museums, monuments and memorials that welcome visitors from all over the world did not yet exist. Tourism of the nation’s capital was a new experience then, but the sites my family saw, photos we took, and reasons that inspired us to visit in 2019 remain much the same. As Mary Clemmer Ames wrote in Ten Years in Washington  in 1874, “ … these historic statues and paintings, these marble corridors, these soaring walls, this mighty dome are yours.” In that respect, Washington’s history is everyone’s history.

Black and white photographs: Louise Carpenter Stanfield Family Collection, Indiana Historical Society. Color photographs: Mulder Family Collection.

Kathy Mulder works in Digital Collections at IHS. She first became interested in history while tagging along with her grandmother who was a docent in historic Madison, Indiana.

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