The Smithsonian
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he Smithsonian Institution was not yet fifteen years old when the Civil War began in April 1861. Its physical structure consisted of a single red sandstone building, designed like a castle by James Renwick Jr. The building and grounds occupied an expanse of grassy meadow. To the east lay the unfinished Capitol, and to the west rose a stub of stone masonry that, when completed, would be a 555-foot obelisk to the memory of George Washington. The castle's towers overlooked the Patent Office building to the north and the Potomac River to the south. On the opposite bank lay Virginia. Just up the river on a high majestic hill, the columned front of Arlington, the home of Robert E. Lee, overlooked the city. Looking downriver, the rooftops of Alexandria, the hometown of Washington and Lee, could be seen distinctly with a pair of binoculars. Compared to the architecturally staid White House a mile away, the Smithsonian Castle, with its jutting turrets and spires, resembled a medieval fortress.

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