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There was living in Philadelphia at this time a middle-aged Frenchman called Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant. He had been educated in the best military schools of France, and with the first guns of the Revolution had hastened, like so many other gallant Frenchmen, to the aid of the oppressed Americans. He did excellent service, too, in teaching the latter how to plan and rear fortifications, and in this service attracted the attention of Washington, who caused him to be appointed major of engineers. Later he had remodelled and fitted up the City Hall in New York for the use of the first Congress, and later still the Federal House in Philadelphia, in a manner to win golden opinions from all sorts of
PIERRE CHARLES L'ENFANT. people.
To him Washington now turned for the plan of the grand city he had in view. L'Enfant, for his part seems to have realized that this was the opportunity of a lifetime; that if he proved equal to the
а occasion his fame was secure. All through this spring and summer of 1791 he brooded over the plan. One point was quickly settled in his mindhe would not plan for thirteen States and three millions of people, but for a mighty republic of fifty States and five hundred millions. In his boat on
the broad bosom of the Potomac, from the heights of Georgetown, and from the opposing hills across the Anacostia, he studied the features of the site. The old palace of Versailles in La Belle France that he had known as a boy came frequently into his thoughts during these musings. But then Versailles had been laid out solely with reference to the palace, while this was to be a city for millions. Often, too, did he recall the grand old forests of Compiègne and Fontainebleau, with their long avenues meeting at Carrefours, and increasing in number according to the importance of the junction. Quite early in these reveries, April 4th, he writes a letter to Jefferson (who has not viewed his appointment with friendly eyes, possibly because he himself wished a larger share in designing the federal city), asking for plans of some of the grand cities of Europe, such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Naples, Venice, Genoa, and Florence. He disclaims any intention of imitating, but observes : “ I shall endeavor to delineate in a new and original way the plan, the contrivance of which the President has left to me without any restriction whatever ; but," he adds, "the contemplation of what exists of well improved situation, even the comparison of these with defective ones, will suggest a variety of new ideas, and is necessary to refine and strengthen the judgment.” Jefferson furnished the maps with the remark that they were “none of them comparable to the old Babylon revived and exemplified in Philadelphia." But the engineer did not agree with him. Philadelphia, he observed, was laid out in squares, like a chess-board; he thought that three or four great avenues, run obliquely, would relieve the monotony by introducing occasional curves and angles, and would also facilitate communication. He therefore combined both features. Choosing Capitol Hill as a centre, he first laid down streets parallel to it, and running due east and west. These were named after the letters of the alphabet, A, B, C, and so on. Then he drew another set of streets running from north to south, and intersecting the lettered streets at right angles, and which were distinguished by the numerals 1, 2, 3, etc. Lastly, radiating from the Capitol and other public buildings, he laid out magnificently wide and straight avenues, cutting the checker-board at every variety of angle, and creating those squares, circles, triangles, and parallelograms which eighty years later were used to such advantage in the renaissance of the city, and which, with their beautiful growth of trees, render Washington the most picturesque city on the continent. The defect of the plan lay in doubling the names of the streets, and in creating too many of the avenues, both tending to confusion.
In making these, however, the engineer had an ulterior object in view—he wished to connect outlying points of his plan with the Capitol, the President's house, and other public buildings, and to create vistas which they should fill, so that in whatever part of the city the observer should be placed his eye, sweeping down the avenue, should rest on the imposing pile of the Capitol, the Monument, the Treasury, or some other public edifice. There were some sixteen of the avenues in all, each named after one of the sixteen States that, in 1800, formed the American Union. These avenues are from one hundred and sixty to one hundred and thirty feet wide, while none of the streets are of a less width than ninety feet. Ample provision was also made for public parks and gardens, not all of which has been utilized. In the original plan the Capitol grounds extended to the Potomac, as did also those of the President's house. The city, as originally laid out, extended from northwest to southeast about four and one half miles, and from east to southwest about two and a half miles, and included about seven thousand one hundred acres.
It was a drive of fourteen miles around it; there were sixtyfive miles of avenues and one hundred and ninetyseven miles of streets.
While L'Enfant was busy with his plan the commissioners had been surveying the district, and had laid out a plot ten miles square, with an area of one hundred square miles, lying on both sides of the Potomac. But, in 1846, that on the Virginia shore was retroceded to Virginia, so that the present area of the district is but fifty square miles. By the 13th of April, 1791, the commissioners were ready to fix the first boundary stone of the district. Accordingly, attended by masonic and civic societies, and by a multitude of spectators, they proceeded to Jones' Point, near Alexandria, and there fixed a granite pillar with appropriate masonic ceremonies. The address of the day was delivered by an eloquent Scotch clergyman, the Rev. James Muir, the con