The Washington Monument is set to open to tourists after three long years.
The 555-foot marble obelisk honoring America’s first president reopens Thursday at 9 a.m. EDT after a three-year renovation project that included an update to its elevator system and built a new security screening facility.
Free same-day tickets for visits through Oct. 18 are available on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 8:30 a.m. To obtain tickets, visit the Washington Monument Lodge.
For tours beyond Oct. 19, you can reserve tickets at www.recreation.gov. beginning Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. EDT.
Despite being out of commission, the monument still played a role in the capital’s observation of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in July. Footage of the Apollo 11 mission was projected onto its facade at nightfall.
The monument was designed by South Carolina architect Robert Mills and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in two phases, the first of which was privately funded.
According to the National Park Service, the widows of two Founding Fathers — Dolley Madison (wife of James Madison, the fourth president author of the Bill of Rights) and Eliza Hamilton — were among the 20,000 people who witnessed the laying of its first cornerstone on July 4, 1848. The latter helped raise funds to build the monument, a fact noted in the closing moments of the hit musical about her husband, Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary. (From the interior, visitors can see 193 commemorative stones, many from the project’s early donors.)
Also on hand: Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, then-president James K. Polk and three future presidents: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln.
Construction continued until 1854 when men associated with the Know-Nothing Party, a xenophobic and anti-Catholic political group,
seized the reins at the Washington Monument Society, alienating donors and sending it into bankruptcy, the National Park Service noted. At the time construction shut down, the monument was less than halfway finished, standing just 156 feet above ground. Making matters worse, Mills died the following year and efforts to jump start construction failed in the face of the looming Civil War.
Work didn’t resume until 1876, when Congress took over the project. The Army Corps of Engineers soon ran into a new problem: the Baltimore-area quarry that supplied the marble for the first phase of construction was no longer available. The builders made do with stones from quarries in Massachusetts and Maryland for the upper two-thirds of the structure, but the stones never matched, which explains why visitors can still see visible lines today.
The team placed the 3,300-pound capstone on Dec. 6, 1884, and the monument was dedicated on Feb. 21, 1885, one day before George Washington’s birthday. Its interior opened briefly to the public in 1886 before closing to better guard against vandals and install a steam-powered public elevator. It reopened in 1888; the elevator was later replaced with an electric model in 1901 that was modernized in the latest renovation project.
In recent years, the monument has also undergone restoration work to repair damage to its stones and mortar caused by an earthquake in August 2011.