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Introducing Histories of the National Mall, a new website interpreting the history of America’s Front Yard.

Go to mallhistory.org on your phone, tablet, or laptop to tour the Mall’s past by exploring historical maps, a chronology of past events, short bios of significant individuals, and episodes in the Mall’s history.

The National Mall has a history of its own that is invisible when walking its paths. Most visitors see what appears to be a finished product: a deliberately planned landscape with memorials, monuments, and museums symbolizing the history and values of the United States. Designed at George Washington’s request by Pierre L’Enfant in 1790, the Mall in its earliest days was a messy place where transportation arteries and commercial markets existed. Lively neighborhoods bordered the Mall. Near the Capitol, pens held enslaved people and captured freemen like Solomon Northrup, awaiting sale to traders. Only after the 1880s did the Mall begin to transform into a place for commemoration and memorialization.

 

Now known as a place of protest and political expression, the Mall also has a long tradition as a public park and place of leisure for Washingtonians and tourists who strolled winding pathways in gardens and learned from collections in the Smithsonian’s galleries. Citizens, government officials, and local businesspeople have shaped the history of this well-known public space—and very few know its history.