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District of Columbia

Washington D.C. is a "district" created by the Congress of the United States in 1790 as the nation's capital. In the early years, the U.S. Congress met in several cities, including Philadelphia, New York and Princeton, before committing to a permanent seat of government in 1790. George Washington personally selected the site of the nation's permanent capital in 1791, and Congress agreed because it was a natural midpoint that would satisfy both northern and southern states. Maryland and Virginia agreed to cede land to create the District of Columbia, and an area 'ten miles square' (26 sq km) was laid out. Virginia's portion south of the river was returned to that state in 1846.

President George Washington commissioned French architect Pierre L'Enfant, one of his staff officers at Valley Forge, to design the new city. But, soon after construction began, L'Enfant was fired and replaced by city surveyor Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker, a freeborn black man who was an astronomer and mathematician. Parts of L'Enfant's vision for the layout of the city can still be seen today, including the Washington Monument.

Work started on the ornate Capitol in 1793, and the seat of government was transferred from Philadelphia to Washington on 1 December 1800. But, construction of the first phase of the Capitol was not completed until 1826. President John Adams was the first resident in the White House, moving into the unfinished building in 1800.

Two hundred years ago, the world wondered why America had chosen this swampy locale as its capital. It took its first hundred years for Washington to evolve from bumpkin backwater status to an international hub of power, diplomacy, and beauty. Today, Washington fully commands center stage.

Washington D.C. plays a unique role both in national and international life. It is the only major planned city in the United States and one of the nation's most impressive. The central northwestern portion of the city, surrounding the Mall, is the focus of governmental activity and is defined by the structures housing the various units of government: the Capitol, on Capitol Hill; the White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; the Supreme Court; the Library of Congress; the State Department; the Justice Department; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and many more. Interspersed among these buildings are the Washington Monument; the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials on either side of the Tidal Basin, around which Japanese cherry trees flower each spring; and the imposing neo-Gothic facade of the Smithsonian Institution. The Pentagon complex lies across the Potomac in Virginia adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.

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