Throughout the city's history, the Ellipse has been a home to many things. During the 19th century, when it was known as the White Lot, it served as an encampment for various military units as they passed through Washington during the Civil War. It was also the home to one of the country's earliest baseball parks. During the holidays, it is serves as the site for the National Christmas Tree. Finally, it the Ellipse is frequently the home to a range of non-government-sponsored political activities, including protests and mock memorials often related to the rallies on the Mall.
The Ellipse has a variety of special memorials. The Bulfinch Gatehouses are located at the southwest and southeast corners of the park. They once served as guard-houses. The high-water marks on the houses show how far up the Potomac River used to come at this point.
Other monuments include the Boy Scout Memorial, located on the eastern fringes of the Ellipse, the Settlers Memorial, a little monolith memorializing the eighteen original landowners of the city, and the Zero Milestone, a point near the White House from which city planners were supposed to start all measurements.
Military monuments at the Ellipse include The First Division Monument (between E Street and State Place) and the Second Division Monument. The first, also known as "Victory", was created by Daniel Chester French to honor the men of the First Armored Division of the U.S. Army who fought and died during World War I. The second, originally erected in 1936, honors those who fought in both World Wars with the Second Division.