Inside an unassuming warehouse at Fort Meade, heaps of government treasures lie in wait for real-life Indiana Jones explorers. The World War II vintage building is crammed full of architectural treasures, marble statuary and patinated bronze ornamentation. It’s the remote archive for the Architect of the Capitol and contains all manner of congressional obscura.
Ever since George Washington laid the capitol cornerstone in 1793 the U.S. Capitol Building has been in a constant state of flux. Two centuries of reconfiguration, repair, and expansion have produced mountains of historically significant detritus that the government isn’t quite sure what to do with. Busloads of historic rocks have been unceremoniously abandoned in Rock Creek Park. Other bits have been relocated to a towering perch atop the National Arboretum.
The collection at Fort Meade slipped through the cracks of these alternate bookends of fate. Neither trashed, nor made available for public display, they reside in a state of archival purgatory unique to the federal government.
The Fort Meade warehouse illustrates the best and worst instincts in the federal government’s approach to historical preservation. The collection is dutifully preserved so that the future repair work on the Capitol can source from historically accurate materials. But scant public access means that these treasures can only be enjoyed up close by a few select custodians, and 99 percent of the visitors will have to do so from behind a computer.
Know Before You Go
The Architect of the Capitol warehouse is located on Fort Meade's southern extremity, nearby the LOC book storage. Only with permission and an escort by the Architect of the Capitol staff will you be allowed to get a peek inside.