If These Stones Could Talk!

Updated: Aug 26

Post by: Camila da Paz | Source: Washingtonian

The 4th of July is the perfect opportunity to show off your barbecue skills, wear your most patriotic apparel, and post too many fireworks videos on your social media accounts. I personally believe that this date it's also great a time to think about the history of this great country we call home. I was casually googling interesting facts about American history when I found this article explaining where the stones that built Washington D.C came from. In fact, Washington D.C was built with lots of beautiful marble and granite. Here's why:


In the beginning, Washington was little more than woods, swamps, and farms punctuated by the Potomac River and the villages of Georgetown and Alexandria–its future as a great city dependent on its designation, in 1790, as the permanent capital of the United States. With the federal government scheduled to move from Philadelphia in 1800, the preceding decade was filled with urgency in constructing appropriate buildings for Congress and the President.

(source: George Isham Parkyns Poster Print)


Most houses in the young nation were made of wood, with a few public structures and upper-class homes done in brick. But George Washington, the Virginian who had chosen the site for the new capital and was then president, decided that Washington's most visible official buildings would be built of stone.

Stone was the standard for the finest buildings in Europe, and Washington believed that the United States, having so recently won its independence, would be taken seriously only if it erected a capital that could compete with Old World grandeur. There was a political consideration too: it was possible, in the absence of rock-solid buildings in Washington, that the government would stay in Philadelphia after all.

(source: encyclopedia of greater Philadelphia)


Ever since the first stones rose to form the walls of the White House and Capitol, this ancient material has helped define Washington's meaning and appearance. Marble, granite, limestone, and sandstone were used to build many of Washington's iconic structures–memorials, government buildings, art galleries, libraries, and churches. In these stones is written much of America's national history, democratic idealism, and mythology–enough to draw millions of people here on pilgrimages each year.


Part of the appeal of stone as a building material is its durability, suggesting permanence amid the ephemeral. Stone endures, which is why we use it to mark events and people we wish to remember, whether it's a natural landmark like Plymouth Rock or the rows of white marble at Arlington National Cemetery. Stone also has gravitas–a seriousness appropriate for grand gestures of patriotism, religion, and culture.

(source: Pinterest)


The stones of Washington also have a universal quality, connecting the city to distant places. The marble on the face of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts comes from Carrara, in northern Italy, not far from where Michelangelo selected the stone from which he carved "David" and "Pietà."


Fashioned into buildings and monuments, the cold, hard face of stone has the power to arouse our deepest emotions and senses. At the southwest corner of the National Gallery's East Building, thousands of people have walked up to touch the sharp edge of the marble. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial relatives and friends, sometimes in tears, place paper over the names of the lost, as if in some ancient graveyard, to make rubbings to be carried away as remembrance.

(source: National Gallery of Art)


But the stones of Washington–like those of Rome or Athens or Florence–appeal mostly to the eye with their varied colors, textures, and shapes. White stone predominates–with the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, and the monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson all set off in a backdrop of green parks. Accumulated over 200 years, these structures are both immutable and changeable–their beauty shifting as the light of each day moves from dawn to dusk, with the passing of each season, with the coming of glaring sun or a cooling rain.

Professional critics have not always been kind to these marble monuments, often finding them cold and imperious knockoffs of the classical world. Ada Louise Huxtable, once the architecture critic of the New York Times, was among the harshest: "Nowhere have more banal buildings been erected in the name of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome."


Yet even she had trouble denying their popular appeal or being moved herself. "There is an hour before twilight, with the glow of the sun still illuminating the horizon, when serene white buildings stand luminous against a clear sky, set stagily amidst the flowers or foliage of a warm spring evening or the bare branches of a crisp winter day. Then the city is touched with its own magic. The eye rejoices and the soul expands. It is an act of love between citizen and stone..."


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