Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the city in embryo, and fortunately we have in letters of the distinguished people of the day very graphic, although perhaps not always unprejudiced pictures. Wet “slashes,” covered with scrub oak and alders, largely covered the level space between the Capitol and the White House. An inlet from the Potomac -called Tiber Creek-extended nearly to Capitol Hill, covering the present site of Centre Market, and having marshy, alder-fringed banks that in places cut into the line of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Departments were housed in a group of small brick buildings about the White House. The block known as the “Six buildings," on Pennsylvania Avenue between Twenty-first and Twenty-second streets, still standing, had already been erected and there were groups of wooden buildings along the road to Georgetown and about the Capitol—but we will allow the letter-writers to present the picture. The first is Oliver Wolcott, the famous Connecticut statesman. In a letter to his wife, dated July 4, 1800, he thus gives his “first impressions.”

“ The City of Washington, or at least some part of it, is about forty miles from Baltimore. ... The Capitol is situated on an eminence which I should suppose was near the centre of the immense country here called the city. It is a mile and a half from the President's House and three miles on a straight line from Georgetown. There is one good tavern about forty rods from the Capitol, and several other houses are built and erecting; but I do not perceive how the members of Congress can possibly secure lodgings, unless they will consent to live like scholars in a college, or monks in a monastery, crowded ten or twenty in one house, and utterly secluded from society. The only resource for such as wish to live comfortably will I think be found in Georgetown, three miles distant over as bad a road in winter as the clay grounds near Hartford.

I have made every exertion to secure good lodgings near the office, but shall be compelled to take them at the distance of more than half a mile. There are in fact but few houses at any one place, and most of them small, miserable huts, which present an awful contrast to the public buildings. The people are poor, and, as far as I can judge, they live like fishes, by eating each other. All the ground for several miles around the city, being, in the opinion of the people, too valuable to be cultivated, remains unfenced. There are but few inclosures even for gardens, and those are in bad order. You may look in almost any direction over an extent of ground nearly as large as the city of New York, without seeing a fence or any object except brick kilns and temporary huts for laborers.

Greenleaf's Point presents the appearance of a considerable town which had been destroyed by some unusual calamity. There are (there) fifty or sixty spacious houses, five or six of which are occupied by negroes and vagrants, and a few more by decentlooking people ; but there are no fences, gardens, nor the least appearance of business. This place is about a mile and a half south of the Capitol.”

Of the White House or “ President's Palace,as the unfriendly called it, he thus speaks:

It was built to be looked at by strangers, and will render its occupant an object of ridicule with some and of pity with others. It must be cold and damp in winter, and cannot be kept in tolerable order without a regiment of servants.”

One of the very few ladies who followed their lords to the capital was Mrs. President Adams, who thus had the distinguished honor of being the first mistress of the President's House. She was one of the most charming of letter-writers, and in a letter to her daughter, dated November 25th, 1800, gives her first impressions thus:

“I arrived here on Sunday last and without meeting with any accident worth noticing except losing ourselves when we left Baltimore, and going eight or nine miles on the Frederick road, by which means we were obliged to go the other eight through the woods, where we wandered two hours without finding a guide or the path. Fortunately a straggling black came up with us, and we engaged him as a guide to extricate us out of our difficulty; but woods are all you see from Baltimore until you

reach the city--which is only so in name. Here and there is a small cot without a glass window interspersed among the forests, through which you travel miles without seeing any human being. In the city there are buildings enough, if they were compact and finished, to accommodate Congress, and those attached to it; but as they are, and scattered as they are, I see no great comfort for them. If the twelve years in which this place has been considered as the future seat of Government had been improved as they would have been in New England, very many of the present inconveniences would have been removed. It is a beautiful spot, capable of any improvement, and the more I view it the more I am delighted with it.”

We shall next introduce a member of Congress, the Hon. John Cotton Smith, of Connecticut, who wrote a very interesting description of the city, and of the domestic life of Congressmen of that day.

He says:

morass

Our approach to the city was accompanied with sensations not easily described. One wing of the Capitol only had been erected, which, with the President's House a mile distant from it,-both constructed with white sandstone,—were shining objects in dismal contrast with the scene around them. Instead of recognizing the avenues and streets portrayed on the plan of the city, not one was visible, unless we except a road with two buildings on each side of it called the New Jersey Avenue. The Pennsylvania Avenue, leading, as laid down on paper, from the Capitol to the Presidential mansion was then nearly the whole distance a deep

covered with alder bushes, which were cut through the width of the intended avenue during the then ensuing winter.

Between the President's house and Georgetown a block of houses had been erected, which then bore and may still bear the name of the Six Buildings. There were also two other blocks consisting of two or three dwelling-houses in different directions, and now and then an insulated wooden habitation, the intervening spaces, and indeed the surface of the city generally, being covered with shrub-oak bushes on the higher ground, and on the marshy soil either trees or some sort of shrubbery.

There appeared to be but two habitations really comfortable in all respects within the bounds of the city, one of which belonged to Daniel Carroll, Esq., and the other to Notley Young, who were the former proprietors of a large proportion of the land appropriated to the city, but who reserved for their own accommodation ground sufficient for gardens, and other useful appurtenances. The roads in every direction were muddy and unimproved. A sidewalk was attempted in one instance, by a covering formed of the chips of the stones which had been hewed for the capital. It extended but a short distance, and was of little value : for in dry weather the fragments cut our shoes, and in wet weather covered them with white mortar.

In short, it was a

new settlement. The houses, with two or three exceptions, had been very recently erected, and the operation greatly hurried in view of the approaching transfer of the National Government. A laudable desire was manifested by what few citizens and residents there were, to render our condition as pleasant as circumstances would permit. One of the blocks of buildings already mentioned was situated on the east side of what was intended for the Capitol Square, and being chiefly occupied by an extensive and well kept hotel, accommodated a goodly number of the members. Our little party took lodgings with a Mr. Peacock, in one of the houses on New Jersey Avenue, with the addition of Senators Tracy of Connecticut, Chipman and Paine of Vermont, and Representatives Thomas of Maryland, and Dana, Edmond, and Griswold of Connecticut. Speaker Sedgwick was allowed a room to himself; the rest of us in pairs. To my excellent friend Davenport and myself was allowed a spacious and decently furnished apartment, with separate beds, on the lower floor. Our diet was varied, but always substantial, and we were attended by active and faithful servants

"A large proportion of Southern members took lodgings

« ZurückWeiter »