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The Jefferson Memorial

By John T. Marck

On the south bank of the Tidal Basin near downtown Washington, D.C. is the Jefferson Memorial. Modeled after the Pantheon of Rome, it is America’s foremost memorial to our third president.

Thomas Jefferson introduced the design in the United States, that of being circular and colonnaded in the classic style, thus architect John Russell Pope used Jefferson’s own architectural tastes in designing the Memorial. It was his intention to synthesize Jefferson’s various contributions through his work as a statesman, President, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, advisor of the Constitution, founder of the University of Virginia, and architect.

Upon architect Pope’s sudden death in August 1937, the construction project was taken over by architects Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers. The project began when the Thomas Jefferson memorial Commission was created to direct the erection of a memorial to Thomas Jefferson by an Act of Congress that approved the measure in June 1934. The Memorial’s location at the Tidal Bain was selected in 1937.

The site chosen caused considerable criticism from the public-at-large as it resulted in removing some of the Japanese flowering cherry trees from the Tidal Basin. Furthermore, the Commission of Fine Arts questioned the structure because the pantheon design competed with the Lincoln Memorial. To solve this issue, the Thomas Jefferson Commission took the planned design to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who preferred the pantheon design and gave his permission to proceed. On November 15, 1939 President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone.

As a statue was needed of Jefferson, in 1941, Rudolph Evans was commissioned to sculpt the statue of our third President. The statue of Jefferson looks out from the center of the interior of the Memorial toward the White House. Completed in bronze, it is 19 feet high and weighs 5 tons. The statue is intended to represent Jefferson and the Age of Enlightenment as well as his image as a philosopher and statesman. Adorning the interior of the Memorial are five quotations taken from Jefferson’s writings that illustrate the principles to which he dedicated his life.

Over the years since it was opened in 1943, very few changes have been made to the Memorial. The most important change is the replacement of the plaster model statue of Jefferson by the present bronze one done after World War II when the restrictions on the use of metals were lifted. The original plaster statue is today located in the basement as it was too large to remove intact.

Each year the Memorial plays host to numerous activities that includes its own annual Memorial exercise, an Easter Sunrise Service and the Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Jefferson Memorial is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m., every day except Christmas. Information may be obtained by calling: 202-426-6841. There are no fees to visit the Memorial, and a gift shop is location on site.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. Information in part compliments of the National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. Some passages taken directly from the National Park Service. Photograph by John T. Marck.  Copyright 2007 -All Rights Reserved.  Do Not Duplicate.