The Lockkeeper’s House, the oldest structure on the National Mall, will get a facelift and a new address, the Trust for the National Mall announced this week.
“We want to make it a destination,” said Caroline Cunningham, the president of the trust, a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service that raises money for the monuments. She said that the structure, built in the 1830s, would be moved 32 feet to the west and south, as part of a newly designed entrance to Constitution Gardens, a corner of the mall that has been a construction site in recent years.
The one-and-a-half-story house — which has a footprint of 30 feet by 18 feet and 350 square feet of interior space — is at the intersection of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, just inches from the sidewalk, but “so many people have driven by it, and they don’t know what it is or what it was or what it will be,” said Timothy McClimon, the president of the American Express Foundation, which donated $1 million of the $7 million being spent on the effort. “It’s a fun, quirky little project, where we can restore some history.”
As recently as the 1860s, a canal ran alongside what is now Constitution Avenue and operated as a commercial conduit, but financial constraints and competition from railroads turned it into an “open sewer,” according to the Library of Congress. The canal was filled in the 1870s.
A lockkeeper in the house controlled the movement of the canal. The building was once occupied by squatters and then prisoners when it became a holding cell for the Park Police. At other times it was a storage space and a public bathroom.
For 40 years, it’s been closed to the public, but Ms. Cunningham said that by August 2016, visitors would be able to visit it in its newest iteration, as an education center.