18th Century Maps, American Maps, Engraving

Happy Birthday Pierre Charles L’Enfant

Happy Birthday L’Enfant!

Born on August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, was a french-born architect and civil engineer who designed the layout for our great Capital city. Where would DC be with out it’s many circles and roundabouts, our grand Pennsylvania avenue, and the national mall? We have L’Enfant to thank for our town’s layout and design…and the many maps that are based off of his plan.

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On January 24, 1791, President George Washington announced the Congressionally-designated permanent location of the national capital, a diamond-shaped ten-mile tract at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch Rivers. The original survey of the 100 square mile diamond shaped “district” was undertaken by Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker (a free slave). In March of 1791, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant was appointed by George Washington to prepare the plan for the city itself with Ellicott as his assistant.

His plan specified locations for the “Congress house” , which would be built on Jenkins Hill (now called Capitol Hill), and the “President’s house”, which would be situated on a ridge parallel to the Potomac River. The “President’s house” was originally planned to be several times larger than the actual size of the current White House. He also designed for an special avenue (Pennsylvania Avenue) to connect the Congress house with the President’s house.

The streets in L’Enfant’s plan are laid out on a simple grid, consisting of east-west streets and north-south streets. Avenues running on a diagonal would cross the grid, and intersect with east-west and north-south streets at large circles and rectangular plazas. These open spaces were to be filled with statues commemorating famous and notable Americans, and offer a outdoor place for the public to stroll, meet, and enjoy.

Unfortunately, L’Enfant turned out to be very difficult to work with. Eventually both Washington and Jefferson became disgusted with his obstinacy. He was suspended in 1792 and outright terminated from his post in 1793. Andrew Ellicott took over the project using L’Enfant’s plan as a base.

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