City of Washington, District of Columbia

~ So My Grandchildren Will Know ~

prepared by Don R. Hender

Short Historical Overview

  • Pre-history - Before Columbus and the Colonization of America the American Indian lived along the Potomac river.
  • 1600s - In the 1600s the British colonized James Town and created the Colony of Virgina
  • 1776 - By our Declaration of Independance there had become 13 British Colonies which included Maryland and Virgina
  • 1790 - By 1790 there had been established a city called Georgetown along the Potomac in the state of Maryland. In that year the newly elected (1789) first President of the United States was empowered to select the site of permanant location of the Capitol of the United States of America.
  • 1791 - President Washington appointed Pierre L'Enfant to design the new city of the United States Capitol. That city would be named the city of Washington after George Washington. By August, 1791 L'Enfant presented his original plan to the President. A revised version was printed in March 1792 and was the first Washington City plan that received wide circulation.
  • 1801 - In 1800 the seat of government was finally moved to the new city and the 'District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801' placed the District under the juridiction of Congress. And the act also organized two counties: the County of Washington on the northeast bank of the extended District square land size and Alexandria County on the southwest bank.
  • 1812 - During the War of 1812 with the British and Canada, the Capitol city of Washington had been attacked and the Whitehouse and Capitol building had been set on fire. The defeat of the British near New Orleans by the army of Andrew Jackson marked the turning point of that war.
  • 1846 - The state of Virginia had lobbied for many years to receive back its portion of the original Federal Jurisdiction District as part of the State of Virginia and in 1846 it was granted effective in 1847. This caused the odd current shape of the District of Columbia today.
  • 1862/64 - Due to the Civil War, a Northern States defense of the nation's capital was established and put into effect in 1864 along the original sqaure or diamond shape of the original national district (See such mapping below).
  • 1871 - Though the Federal District was named and called the Dictrict of Columbia after the recognized discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus previously, it was not until the Organic Act of 1871 that the whole of the remaining Dictrict of Columbia was established as a new territorial government which entailed the revoking of the charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown. Thus, thereafter, effectively the entire Jurisdiction of the District of Columbia is but one extended city 'proper', being 'Washington D. C.'. And the belt loop of 495 today marks but one circle on a set of surrounding suburbs to the nation's capitol city.
  • 1889 - The old Oregon territory was first agreed to be Joint ownership between the United States and Britain in 1818 and included such land areas as is now the states of Oregon, Idaho, Washington and parts of Montana and Wyoming on the Western Coast. Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 had first reached that land region. It was not until 1889 that Washington State proper became the 42nd state.
  • 1970 - After my mission and being married in the New Zealand, Hamilton Temple, which is actually in a town called Temple View, Great Grandma Hender and I took a Genealogical/Family trip back east to North Carolina and then to Virginia and then to Maryland before coming back to Clearfield, Utah (Not Clearfield, Pennsylvania). We drove around Washington D.C. on the City's 495 freeway belt loop and stopped at the Washington D.C. Temple, which is in Kensington, Maryland, and did a temple session in the Washington D.C. Temple. Following the 495 city belt loop we never had to enter the District of Columbia / Washington City proper as, the belt loop was totally in the suburbs surrounding the remaining portion of the once square District.
  • 2009 - Grandma Rosie and Anthony went on a trip back east and visted Washington D.C. proper, our nation's capital. There Antony and Grandma visited a number of places and did a number of things such as riding to the top of Washington Monument and standing beside a flat cardboard figure of President Obama (so much for the 'empty chair theory').

    A 1862, Civil War time period, mapping of the District of Columbia and the City of Washington:

    A Long History of the District of Columbia

    L'Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C., as revised by Andrew Ellicott. Engraved by Thackara & Vallance sc. Printed from the same plate as map appearing in "The universal asylum, and Columbian magazine", Philadelphia, March 1792 (the first printed edition of the Plan of the City of Washington).
    A contemporary reprint of Samuel Hill's 1792 print of Ellicott's "Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia", published in "Massachusetts Magazine", Boston, May 1792, showing street names, lot numbers, coordinates and legends.

    George Washington was unanimously elected President in 1789 for the then Electoral College and at his inauguration he took the Oath of Office on April 30, 1789. By 1790 'The Residence Act of 1790' authorized the President to select the specific location of the permanent seat of the goverment, which would be located along the Potomac River. After preliminary surveys and various business, in early 1791, President Washington appointed Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant to devise a plan for the new city in an area of land at the center of the federal territory that lay between the northeast shore of the Potomac River and the northwest shore of the Potomac's Eastern Branch. L'Enfant then designed in his "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government of the United States..." the city's first layout, a grid centered on the United States Capitol, which would stand at the top of a hill (Jenkins Hill) on a longitude designated as 0:0. The grid filled an area bounded by the Potomac River, the Eastern Branch (now named the Anacostia River), the base of an escarpment at the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line along which a street (initially Boundary Street, now Florida Avenue) would later travel, and Rock Creek.

    North-south and east-west streets formed the grid. Wider diagonal "grand avenues" later named after the states of the union crossed the grid. Where these "grand avenues" crossed each other, L'Enfant placed open spaces in circles and plazas that were later named after notable Americans.

    L'Enfant's broadest "grand avenue" was a 400 feet (122 m)-wide garden-lined esplanade, which he expected to travel for about 1 mile (1.6 km) along an east-west axis in the center of an area that the National Mall now occupies. A narrower avenue (Pennsylvania Avenue) connected the "Congress house" (the Capitol) with the "President's house" (the White House). In time, Pennsylvania Avenue developed into the capital city's present "grand avenue".

    L'Enfant's plan included a system of canals, one of which would travel near the western side of the Capitol at the base of Jenkins Hill. To be filled in part by the waters of Tiber Creek, the canal system would traverse the center of the city and would enter both the Potomac River and the Eastern Branch.

    On August 19, 1791, L'Enfant presented his plan to President Washington. However, L'Enfant subsequently entered into a number of conflicts with the three commissioners and others involved in the enterprise.

    During a particularly contentious period in February 1792, Andrew Ellicott informed the commissioners that L'Enfant had not arranged to have the city plan engraved and had refused to provide him with an original plan that L'Enfant was then holding. Ellicott, with the aid of his brother, Benjamin Ellicott, then revised the plan, despite L'Enfant's protests. Ellicott's revisions realigned and straightened Massachusetts Avenue, eliminated five short radial avenues and added two others, removed several plazas and straightened the borders of the future Judiciary Square.

    Shortly thereafter, Washington dismissed L'Enfant. Ellicott gave the first version of his own plan to James Thakara and John Vallance of Philadelphia, who engraved, printed and published it. This version, printed in March 1792, was the first Washington city plan that received wide circulation.[50]

    After L'Enfant departed, Ellicott continued the city survey in accordance with his revised plan, several larger and more detailed versions of which were also engraved, published and distributed. As a result, Ellicott's revisions became the basis for the capital city's future development.

    In 1800, the seat of government was finally moved to the new city, and on February 27, 1801, the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 placed the District under the jurisdiction of Congress. The act also organized the unincorporated territory within the District into two counties: the County of Washington on the northeast bank of the Potomac, and the County of Alexandria on the southwest bank. On May 3, 1802, the City of Washington was granted a municipal government consisting of a mayor appointed by the President of the United States.