The National Museum of Natural History
Located across Constitution Avenue from the entrance of the IRS Building, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is designed in the same neoclassical style as the Federal Triangle buildings. Part of the 1901 McMillian Plan, which created the Federal Triangle, the museum was built as the first major addition to the Smithsonian, in order to provide space for the growing collections and research facilities. Opened in 1910, the building is the size of 18 football fields and contains more than 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. Today it is the largest and most visited natural history museum in the world. The museum's National Gem and Mineral Collection originated with the collection bequeathed to the United States by James Smithson of Scotland, along with the money to create the Smithsonian Institute over 150 years ago. The museum is open daily to the public free of charge (Closed Christmas Day).
The Benjamin Franklin Post Office
Located on the ground floor of the Clinton building at the corner of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the Benjamin Franklin Post Office provides a publically accessible example of the rich interior design of the building. It contains two large murals entitled Family Letter and Letter from Home by artist Alexander Brook. The murals were sponsored by the New Deal in the 1930s and depict the importance of the postal service in keeping a distant family connected. A colorful world map is inlaid into the center of the lobby's marble floor illustrating the reach of the U.S. postal system. Flanking the map are inlaid bronze discs depicting a compass and a calendar and bronze models with images of a mail truck, steam ship, railroad car, and airplane; exemplifying modes of mail delivery in the early twentieth century. The Ben Franklin Post Office is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday thru Friday and from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturday. (Closed on federal holidays.)
Museum of American History
Located across Constitution Avenue from the Mellon Auditorium and EPA buildings, the National Museum of American History opened in 1958 as the sixth Smithsonian Institution building constructed on the National Mall. Holding over 3 million artifacts, it includes everything from the desk upon which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. One of its most prized possessions is the American flag raised over Baltimore's Fort McHenry after a crucial naval battle against the British in 1814. The sight of its "broad stripes and bright stars" inspired Frances Scott Key to write the words to America's national anthem. Among the most popular exhibits are gowns worn by America's First Ladies and a life-size replica of Julia Child's kitchen used in her popular television series. The museum offers a wide variety of public programs and is open to the public free of charge daily from 10:00am to 5:30pm (Closed Christmas Day).
The Wilson Plaza
Located between the Clinton Building and the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, the Wilson Plaza provides an open air venue for concerts and outdoor dining. It is the best place to view the bas reliefs and monumental pediment sculptures on the west façade of the Clinton Building. The plaza also contains three free standing sculptures commissioned by the Art-in-Architecture Program of the General Services Administration. During summer months, free musical performances are presented on the plaza. For more information, see What's Around the Ronald Reagan Building.
Tiber Creek, which now flows beneath the pavement of Constitution Avenue, originally ran to the base of Capitol Hill, playing an important role in the early history of Washington. Pierre L'Enfant's master plan for the city envisioned linking the Tiber—also known as Goose Creek—to the Anacostia River, providing a waterway through the town center to connect with the Potomac. Work on the Washington City Canal began as early as 1802 but was not completed until 1815. Although useful for transporting stone and building materials for the construction of the Capitol, it was never a success. As originally designed, it was too shallow and could not handle the tidal variations of the Anacostia. The canal was also subject to flooding and storms frequently brought water coursing across Pennsylvania Avenue. Mosquitoes found it a perfect breeding ground and periodic outbreaks of malaria hampered early development of the city.
An extension of the C & O Canal was completed in 1833 which connected with the canal at the mouth of the Potomac River. However it made little difference, since by then development of railroads had caused a decline in the use of water routes. During the Civil War, it functioned as both a storm drain and open sewer; markets clustered around the eastern section of the canal dumped rotting food and other garbage into the water. Much of the western section was bordered by the notorious Murder Bay where outdoor privies drained directly into the canal. Regular outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were added to the threat of malaria.
Finally in 1871, Alexander "Boss" Shepherd, head of the city's Department of Public Works, had the Tiber Creek section of the canal paved over. Initially called B Street, it was widened and renamed Constitution Avenue when designers of the Federal Triangle in the 1920s planned a grand ceremonial avenue linking the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery.