Smithsonian Castle: Smithsonian Institution Building

Smithsonian Castle

Robert Lyle Bolton/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Smithsonian Castle, officially named the Smithsonian Institution Building, houses the administrative offices and the Information Center for the world-class museums in Washington DC. This Victorian style, red sandstone building was built in 1855 and designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. It was originally the home of the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, and his family and is the oldest building on the National Mall. 

What to See There

The Smithsonian Castle is centrally located on the National Mall and serves as a good place to start a tour of the Smithsonian museums. You can view a 24-minute video on the Smithsonian and learn about other Washington, DC attractions as well. The main information area has two large models of the Mall and two electronic maps of Washington, DC.

Volunteer Information Specialists are available to provide free maps and help you plan your sightseeing itinerary. There is also a café and free wifi. The Enid A. Haupt Garden sits on the south side of the building and is a beautiful place to explore during the warmer months of the year.


The Castle served as the museum's first exhibit hall from 1858 until the 1960s. Over the years, the building has been home to the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It has been restored several times and is a National Historic Landmark. The crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, is located at the north entrance to the building.

Getting There

The Smithsonian Castle is located at 1000 Jefferson Drive SW in Washington, DC. The closest Metro station is Smithsonian.

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