Gallery 15 - Other Fossil Sites

Many other fossils are on public display in the structures of the city.   Some are listed below.  Unlike the other Galleries, the fossils and structures are not discussed in detail for various reasons. 

  • Some have less impressive fossil displays. 
  • Some are less accessible to the public. 
  • The identity and geological origins of the fossils are simply not yet well enough known and researched. 

They have been identified by several means: the USGS publication, Building Stones of Our Nation’s Capital, and Building Stones and Geomorphology of Washington, D.C.; The Jim O’Connor Memorial Field Trip, by Eleanora I. Robbins and Myrna H. Welter, see http://www.gswweb.org/oconnor-fieldtrip.pdf; and from the unpublished research of National Park Service geologist Jason Kenworthy.  Some have been noted in personal communications from geologists; many appear based on the author’s own observations and research. 

The list is certainly incomplete.  The goal of this website is to explore all of the public fossil displays in D.C.  Additional sites undoubtedly await identification.  With research and information, some of these sites could be discussed in greater detail. 

For now, here is a list, more or less, of the rest of the known fossils.

Exhibit 1 National Museum of American History
Exhibit 2 National Museum of African Art
Exhibit 3 Lincoln Memorial
Exhibit 4 Washington Monument
Exhibit 5 Jefferson Memorial
Exhibit 6 Butt-Millet Fountain
Exhibit 7 The Library of Congress, John Adams Building, 110 Second St., S.E.
Exhibit 8 333 Constitution Ave., N.W. E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
Exhibit 9 301 Indiana Ave., N.W. (or, 300 Indiana Ave., N.W.) Municipal Center
Exhibit 10 1025 F St., N.W. The Woodward and Lothrop Building
Exhibit 11 807-809 7th St., N.W. [Exhibit de-accessioned Winter 2008 – to be demolished for a new building]
Exhibit 12 950 F. St., N.W.
Exhibit 13 1111 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Exhibit 14 Ariel Rios Federal Building, Benjamin Franklin Post Office, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Exhibit 15 555 12th St., N.W.
Exhibit 16 The National Theater, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Exhibit 17 (temporarily empty)
Exhibit 18 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., The Willard Hotel
Exhibit 19 1121 14th St., N.W.
Exhibit 20 (temporarily empty)
Exhibit 21 15th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. Hotel Washington
Exhibit 22 1127 Connecticut Ave., N.W., The Mayflower Hotel
Exhibit 23 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., The Brookings Institute
Exhibit 24 1750 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Exhibit 25 919 18th St., N.W.

 

AROUND THE MALL AND ADJACENT PUBLIC BUILDINGS

Exhibit 1: National Museum of American History.  The interior walls are full of highly visible marine fossils, noted by Jim O’Connor’s notes  (see O’Connor Memorial Field Trip at 30)  The Smithsonian archives report that the stone is described as being, “Cliffdale Marble” – apparently an obsolete trade name.  Preliminary research has not yielded any further information. 

National Museum of American History

Exhibit 2: National Museum of African Art.  The interior walls appear to be a limestone with scattered visible shell impressions.  Prof. O’Connor’s notes recommended, “[n]ote the wormholes carved by shrimp in the limestone wall.”  (see O’Connor Memorial Field Trip at 30).  Preliminary research at the Smithsonian archives indicates that the stone was supplied by the Bybee Stone Company, which primarily sells Indiana Limestone.  No further research has been done.  (Generally speaking, individual examples of Indiana Limestone, which is covered in Gallery 6, are not discussed in this Gallery, but the identity of this stone is not certain.)

Exhibit 3         Lincoln Memorial.  In addition to the Indiana Limestone in the interior walls, fossils exist in the plaza just below and to the east of the entrance, as reported by the NPS (Jason Kenworthy, personal communication, 2004):

Robbins and Welter (2001) noted a interesting fossil occurrence on the grounds of the memorial that may no longer be visible.  Part of the plaza areas leading from the memorial steps down to the roadway and the Reflecting Pool contained “local fossiliferous Potomac cobblestones”.  These cobblestones may have been from the sand-gravel facies of the Early Cretaceous Potomac Group or cobblestones from Potomac River terrace deposits that are found throughout Washington, D.C.  Robbins and Welter do not give any further details or identify the fossils. River cobbles from the Potomac River could contain fossils from various older fossiliferous formations eroded by the Potomac River.   Apparently, some of these cobbles were removed during renovations and replaced with “exotic” stones from outside of the local area (Robbins and Welter 2001).  Some of the original cobbles may still be present, however.

Despite the concerns expressed above, it appears that some of the cobbles still in place are Cambrian period rocks originally from the Antietam Formation, displaying Skolithos trace fossils (“worm burrows”) – personal communication from Callan Bentley, of the Geology faculty of Northern Virginia Community College.

Exhibit 4: Washington Monument.  The outer panels on the Monument encompass three different types of non-fossiliferous marble.  However, inside and visible from the stairway (which may be open to the public on special tours), there are “state stones” from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other U.S. territories and possessions and from other sources.  These include a number of fossil-bearing stones:

            Hawaii stone  “Coral sandstone,” containing coral fragments and shells (Pleistocene to Holocene)

            Arizona stone Triassic petrified wood.

            Ryukyu stone (Okinawa) Coral stone similar in age to the Hawaii stone, although the fossils are not easily seen.

            Tennessee memorial stone “Tennessee marble,” with blotches and indistinct shapes likely created by fossils – elsewhere in this website, true marble stones with fossils metamorphosed into “blotches” are not mentioned.

            Young Men's Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati Memorial Stone.  Dark grey limestone with visible fossil shells, age not reported.

            Postmasters of Indiana Memorial Stone and Indiana state stone.  Fossiliferous (see Gallery 6).

            Illinois memorial stone.  Appears to be Salem Formation fossiliferous limestone.

This information is courtesy of Jason Kenworthy (personal communication, 2004).

Exhibit 5         Jefferson Memorial.  Although this stone is not mentioned by either the USGS Building Stones or by Jim O’Connor’s accounts, a National Park Service website states that Missouri Marble with visible marine fossils surrounds the base of Jefferson’s statue.  See Views of the National Parks.  The author has not independently researched this site.

 

Exhibit 6         Butt-Millet Fountain.  This small memorial is located at the northwestern corner of the Ellipse, just across E St., N.W. from the White House grounds.  It was erected to the memory of two prominent Washingtonians who perished on the Titanic.  The basin is made of Tennessee marble.  Jim O’Connor asked in his notes, “Are the fossils popping out?”  (see O’Connor Memorial Field Trip at 14)  The author has not observed distinct fossil shapes, but defers to the late Prof. O’Connor.

Exhibit 7         The Library of Congress, John Adams Building, 110 Second St., S.E. If one needs to do some research on fossils, there is no better resource in Washington than the John Adams Building (1938) of the Library of Congress, a classical structure clad in white Georgia marble.  Armed with a Reader Identification Card (available for free with a visit to the James Madison Building across Independence Ave.) one can undertake research on the fifth floor, assisted by extensive reference support, under the watchful gaze of figures in Ezra White’s period wall murals.  Before taking the elevator up from the Second St. entrance, however, pause a moment to admire the yet-unidentified fossil-bearing limestone on the walls in the elevator area.

DOWNTOWN

Exhibit 8: 333 Constitution Ave., N.W. E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse.  Step in some day to the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in the nation’s capital.  Above, on the fourth and fifth floors, is the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  Downstairs is the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The building and the court sessions are (mostly) open to the public, and no one should miss the opportunity to see a trial or appellate argument in the high-ceilinged courtrooms of this distinctive 1952 structure.  The building remains out of the public eye for long stretches of time but, periodically, frenzied media attention surrounds the entrances during a criminal proceeding involving some prominent local or national figure.  On a more typical, quieter day at the Court, lawyers, litigants and jurors enter the building, pass through the ubiquitous security gates and generally hurry on to their appointed sessions.  Whether the times are busy or slow, however, little if any attention is paid to the panorama of fossils in the limestone dimension stone that lines the halls of the first floor. 

The year 2006 saw the opening of the Annex to the courthouse, with an entrance on Third St., N.W.  In the first floor of the rounded tower-like structure near the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Third St. is the court cafeteria, which is open to the public and affords a wonderful view of the Capitol, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art and the Federal Trade Commission Building – another incentive for the casual visitor.  The new Annex has interior walls of a pale, fine-grained limestone, quite different from the dimension stone lining the halls of the older courthouse building.  This new stone displays scattered, often very large ammonites and belemnites.  Research on both types of limestone is still ongoing.

Exhibit 9: (TEMPORARILY CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC) April 30, 2007.  301 Indiana Ave., N.W. (or, 300 Indiana Ave., N.W.) Municipal Center.  Designed by the noted architect Andrew Wyeth and build in 1940, this Art Deco/Art Moderne structure is perhaps most familiar to many Washington residents as the home for decades of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and a major site for obtaining and renewing driver licenses.  Many a District resident lingered in line in Room 1157, but few were aware of the rich fossil record visible in the light grey stone panels on the walls there.  Bivalve shells, perhaps other shells, and possible trace fossils (potentially worm burrows, see discussion of trace fossils in Gallery 6) abound in this yet- unidentified stone.  Effective April 30, 2007, the DMV was relocated to 95 M St., S.W., and Room 1157 is closed to the public as of fall 2007.  However, the author was told informally by a Municipal Center employee that Room 1157 will reopen as a traffic adjudication center.

Exhibit 10: 1025 F S., N.W.  The Woodward and Lothrop Building.  From its construction nearly a century ago to its closing in 1995, the "Woodies building" was a memorable hub of urban shopping, housing a major local department store.  In recent years, the plan has been to establish smaller retail stores in the building.  In August 2007, the main entrance to the building on F St. reopened, concurrently with the opening of a new home furnishings store.  The newly-refurbished entrance hallway inside features framed photographs of Woodies during its 20th century heyday.  The hallway walls are covered by a pearly white stone, which has many indistinct fossils, as well as scattered, small but unmistakable, spired gastropod shells.  No further information is known as yet.

Exhibit 11: [EXHIBIT BEING DE-ACCESSIONED WINTER 2008 – TO BE TORN DOWN FOR A NEW BUILDING] 807-809 7th St., N.W.  Stand at the intersection of H and 7th St., N.W., and you are at the center of Washington’s diminutive but distinctive Chinatown.  A massive Chinese gate bestrides H St. just east of 7th St., the “Friendship Archway,” a traditional Chinese structure designed by  Alfred H. Liu that features multiple roofs, thousands of tiles, and many painted dragons in the style of the late Chinese dynasties.   However, even the casual visitor in 2007 may see that Chinatown is in transition.  A commercial and residential building boom has brought in ever more newly-constructed buildings housing national chains and establishments with little or no Chinese significance – though always displaying a token sign with Chinese characters.   Older businesses representative of the traditional Chinatown remain, chiefly in the form of restaurants.  Step a few yards north on the east side of 7th St., and you will encounter a restaurant of the old order – Kam Fong Seafood Restaurant.  Kam Fong operates in a row-house-like brick structure typical of the original Chinatown streetscape.  At some point the owners refurbished the front with panels of white stone – now smudged with wear, and sometimes disfigured with graffiti.  Later still, it appears that a number of the panels must have required replacement.  The newer, more polished panels do not quite match the old ones – they display a tan color marked by whorls and shapes – including mostly indistinct fossils.  At least one gastropod is visible quite clearly.  No further information is available for this most accidental of exhibits.

Exhibit 12: 950 F St., N.W.  An office building freshly constructed in the spring of 2006 has a lobby with walls and pillars of a limestone containing numerous fossils, especially ammonites and possibly belemnites.  No further information has yet been obtained.

Exhibit 13: 1111 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.  The lobby of this office building is sometimes a display space for artists, and the principal flooring stone is commercially known as “Botticino Marble,” a Jurassic limestone from northern Italy.  It was deposited on shallow limestone banks in seas similar to the modern Bahamas Banks.  The fossils, chiefly cross-sections of bivalves and perhaps some gastropods (likened by the study cited below as sometimes resembling sliced-open M&Ms), are few, but can be found especially at the northernmost end of the exhibit space.  The stone was identified by the building management (originally supplied by Rugo and Caruso), and the geological identity behind the trade name is discussed in “Building Stones in the Vicinity of Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio,” (brochure produced by Merrianne Hackathorn and Lisa Van Doren, Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, Division of Geology) at p. 2, under the Cleveland Public Library discussion.  See http://www.ohiodnr.com/geosurvey/pdf/clevtour.pdf.

Exhibit 14       Ariel Rios Federal Building, Benjamin Franklin Post Office, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave.  If one is ever near the Federal Triangle and has a need to post a letter, help is near at hand.  Step into the Benjamin Franklin Post Office, whose entrance is a few feet from the southwest corner of 12th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., in the Classical Revival-style Ariel Rios Federal Building (1931-1934).  A large facility with a friendly staff, this Post Office is a good choice to use the postal system.  Lingering in the lobby provides two visual rewards.  First, the eastern end of the hall hosts a large Depression-era mural – one of twenty-four in the building.  More to the point here, however, the light tan colored stone lining the hall and hallway features many small (1/2 inch or less) bivalve fragments and cross-sections, and scattered high-spired gastropods of a similar size.  No further information is known at this point.

Exhibit 15       555 12th St., N.W.   This massive building (built 1996) occupies an entire city block, bounded by E and F St. and 11th and 12 St.   Step into the lobby from 12th St. and take the elevator down to the use the publicly-available parking garage or visit the copying enterprise on level P300.  Or, you might want to take a few trips, because the walls of these elevators offer their own modest paleontology display:  bivalve shell fragments, whole high-spired gastropods, and others.  Further information is not yet available. 

Exhibit 16       The National Theater, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.  Theatergoers during an intermission, or those visiting the ticket window, or visitors during ticket office hours, can view what is commercially called Sicilian Perlato Marble,” donated by the Ambassador of Italy and others.  Shell fragments and crinoid stalks are visible among the reddish/brown streaks on the white stone.   Identification is provided by a large plaque in the lobby.

Exhibit 17 is temporarily empty.

Exhibit 18: 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., The Willard Hotel.  The late Prof. O’Connor’s notes state, “[t]he Men’s room marble and stairs have fossils.”  (See O’Connor Memorial Field Trip at 38).

Exhibit 19: 1121 14th St., N.W.  In 2006, a new office building opened just south of Thomas Circle.  The building façade sports a large quantity of dramatic, rough-surfaced limestone, though it is not visibly fossil-bearing.  Framing the entrances, however, another limestone displays what appear to be bivalve fragments and cross-sections.  No further information is available at this time.

Exhibit 20 is temporarily empty.

Exhibit 21: 15th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.  Hotel Washington.  Fossils occur in the stairs from the lobby to the mezzanine.  Per Notes of Jim O’Connor.  Unidentified.

Exhibit 22: 1127 Connecticut Ave., N.W., The Mayflower Hotel.  Built in 1925, this grand dame of D.C. hotels has “marble” floors and steps in the lobby area with somewhat indistinct fossils from a Paleozoic reef.  Personal communication from Raymond Rye.

Exhibit 23: 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., the Brookings Institute.  Step into the front door of this famous Washington think tank and into the hum of academic activity.  The Institute’s website states that it “analyzes current and emerging issues and produces new ideas that matter.”  Despite the emphasis on the contemporary, the organization has at least some links to the distant past.  In the floor of the main entrance hall, and even in the guard’s desk, a tan/brown/cream colored stone displays large fossils – most noticeably, crinoid columnals.  The lobby leads to the Brookings’ bookstore, which is open to the public.  Further investigation is pending.

Exhibit 24: 1750 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.  Across the street from the Brookings Institute, since 2001 the Peterson Institute for International Economics has been housed in an award-winning structure.  The ground-level wall on the west side is faced with a limestone that appears to have bivalve shell fragments.

Exhibit 25: 919 18th St., N.W.  In the middle of the east side of 18th St., between I St. and K St., stands a modern office building whose surface is dominated by panels of manmade aggregate featuring rough pebbles.   However, the building’s entrance is framed by panels of very modestly visible fossiliferous stone, which extends southward to the entrance to the parking garage.  In addition to what appear to be bivalve fragments, small (less than ½ inch) spired gastropods can be seen in places.  No further information is known yet.