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Washington, D.C.

Unlike a town that just grew up naturally and organically alongside a riverbank, Washington was a totally planned city. Congress declared that a permanent capital city must be established and built by 1800, and it was. Accustomed to the comforts of an established city, not a lot of Congressional legislators were eager to leave cushy Philadelphia for the unpaved streets of Washington in the District of Columbia, carved out of muddy farmland along the Potomac.

Territory of Columbia, 1794.
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The streets of Washington are much like the angled pathways of the gardens of Versailles, which may have influenced Pierre L'Enfant, the city's designer. A French soldier who volunteered for the Americans in the Revolution, he was an acquaintance of George Washington. With his strong personality, L'Enfant clashed with Congress, which fired him before the layout of the new national capital was completed. Andrew Ellicott was called on to complete the survey of the city, and it is his name we see on many of the early maps of Washington, not L'Enfant’s.

 Washington, 1792.
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A more developed plan of just the City of Washington, within the District, assigns each block a number, most likely to facilitate the location and sale of lots in the new city. Georgetown, to the west of the new capital, is a historically Black community which predated the establishment of Washington, and was incorporated into that city in 1895. Notice that the mapmaker has made Washington the line of zero longitude. All measurements in the new nation would start from here, not Greenwich, England--surely a cartographic statement of independence!












If you are interested in the mapping of Washington, D.C., check the American Memory website of the United States Library of Congress.

To read more about the mapping of Washington, D.C., consult the following books:

City of Magnificent Distances, the Nation's Capital (1991-1992 : Library of Congress)
City of magnificent distances, the nation's capital : a Library
of Congress exhibit, Madison Gallery, October 17,1991-March 15,1992.
[Washington] : Library of Congress, [1991]
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Ristow, Walter William, 1908- comp.
A la carte; selected papers on maps and atlases. Washington, Library of Congress [for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off.] 1972.
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