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Reading Room in the West Range
woodcut from William J. Rhees, An Account of the Smithsonian Institution...,
Smithsonian Institution, neg. 78-3854.
Concurrent with the use of the West Wing as a library, the connecting Range was designated as a public reading room. The leading periodicals and scientific journals published in the United States, Great Britain, and parts of Europe were available to visitors of all ages. Fourteen year-old Francis Ormand French wrote in his diary of 1851,
"Today I went to the Smithsonian Institution where for some hours I read, having an excelent [sic] time for a good book is truly a companion and I know of nothing which is more entertaining. I hope to repeat this visit frequently."
The high vaulted ceiling above a clerestory, and the rows of delicate colonnettes made a strong statement in the Gothic style, leading many who worked in the building to call this room the Gothic Hall.