The Marine Barracks
Marine Barracks, east side, c. 1863
Historical Society of Washington, DC
The oldest continually active post in the Corps, the Marine Barracks served as Marine Corps Headquarters from 1801 to 1901. Here recruits and officers were trained, and vital decisions were made affecting Corps development. Troops quartered at the Barracks played significant roles in the wars with the Barbary pirates, the War of 1812, the Seminole War, the capture of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, and the conquest of Cuba in the Spanish-American War. As the home of the Marine Band, which has played for every President since John Adams, the Marine Barracks witnessed a significant epoch in American musical history when John Philip Sousa, the “March King,” served as leader from 1880 to 1892. The Marine Band is still stationed at the Barracks and remains the official White House musical unit.
Founded on November 10, 1775 by the Continental Congress and disbanded after the Revolution, the Marine Corps was reestablished in 1798 and headquartered in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at that time. In 1800, the headquarters moved to Washington, DC first in Georgetown and later on E Street until Commandant William Ward Burrows chose an appropriate site. Burrows chose the current location of the Barracks and chose English architect George Hadfield, who also designed Arlington House, as the architect of the Barracks and the Commandant’s House.
Early in the 20th century, the Marine Barracks underwent extensive renovation. The 2 1/2-story, brick Commandant’s House, completed in 1806, is the only structure remaining of the original barracks complex. The oldest public building with the exception of the White House, it served as home for men like Archbald Henderson, Charles Heywood, and John A. Lejeune, all of whom played vital roles in the development of the modern Marine Corps. Other structures on the old post grounds include a barracks building, a band hall, and a row of five officers’ quarters. All of these brick structures were erected between 1904 and 1907.
The Marine Corps Museum is at 9th and M Sts., SE. It is open Monday through saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Sundays and holidays for noon until 5:00 pm. It is closed January 1st and December 25th.