Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Building and a Nation Grow

"Not everyone was pleased, in 1790, when Congress decided to establish the young Republic's permanent seat on the banks of the Potomac River instead of accepting one of a dozen other sites offered.

"A howling, malarious, wilderness," some called the area chosen. "The Indian the woods on the Potomac," said one disgusted official.

But the decision had been made, and much could be said for it. Washington, District of Columbia-marked off by, and named for, the first President-was near the midpoint of the long stretch of states. It lay close to the thriving centers of Georgetown and Alexandria, accessible to overland and water transport. "It is a beautiful spot, capable of any improvement," said Mrs. John Adams when she first saw her brief home as the wife of the second President,"...the more I view it the more I am delighted with it."

Few realized it then, but the embryo settlement also was favored by the vision of a city planner on the grand scale. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, French-born engineer who had served under General Washington in the Revolution, laid out a city whose broad avenues and sweeping circles anticipated the needs of the future metropolis.

On a June morning in 1791, President Washington and L'Enfant made a horseback inspection of the Federal District's wooded and swampy site. "I discover no one (situation)," L'Enfant wrote in his report, "so advantageously to greet the Congressional building as is that on the west end of Jenkins heights..." It stands, he added in the felicitous, oft-quoted phrase, "as a pedestal waiting for a monument." -"We, the People...The Story of the United States Capitol" pgs. 16 & 20

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