Since the USA was formed as a federation of independent states, the question of where to put the federal capital was a political hot potato. To use an existing state capital seemed contrary to the democratic ideals of the federation. The solution was to carve out a 260 square kilometre (100 square mile) area at a site chosen by George Washington on the border between Maryland and Virginia and build the capital from scratch. The city was designed by French born American architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant and work on it commenced in 1791. L'Enfant was dismissed in 1792 for non co-operation with the with the Commissioners of the Federal Buildings but much of his design was retained. The capital city was called Washington after the first president, in the District of Columbia (DC) administrative district. In 1846 the land on ceded by Virginia was returned to the state.
Wavy Lines, 12th & Constitution
You weren’t expecting pictures of the White House were you? These wavy lines that we found on a crossing at 12th and Constitution are much more fun. Physics geeks will tell you that these lines are an excellent demonstration of the effect of Newton’s Laws of Motion on the soft tarmac during hot weather in July 1997. A alternative explanation is that they might have been painted deliberately to help US Administrators find their way home following a heavy night of political manoeuvring (maneuvering). By the way, if you do want to see the White House, go to the White House & Executive Offices page.
The British call them Roundabouts and have deployed them to excess. The Americans call them Traffic Circles and have very few of them, but Washington DC is an exception. This circle at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue with 14th Street and Vermont Avenue is named after Civil War Union General George Henry Thomas. The statue of of General Thomas on horseback, on the right of the picture, was erected in 1879. The church on the left is the National City Christian Church, the national cathedral for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Despite its neoclassical design, the church building dates only from 1930.
National Air & Space Museum
London and New York each has a Museum Mile, but DC has Museum Mall. Between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, the Mall is lined with museums covering subjects such as Art, History and Natural History. The National Air and Space Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution, set up by English Scientist James Smithson’s bequest to found ‘an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men’. Wilbur Wright turned to the Smithsonian for research during the development of the Flyer. Although the exhibits date back as far as the 19th century, the museum on the Mall dates only from 1976.
Old Post Office, Pennsylvania Avenue
Built in 1899, this grand building in the Penn Quarter was used for mail sorting for only 15 years and by 1934 the Post Office had completely abandoned it. Because of the Depression there was no money to demolish it, so for many years it was used as overflow space by several government agencies. Today, much of the building is used as a shopping centre while the National Park Service provides tours of the tower. The Observation Deck at a height of 82 metres (270 feet) provides views over Washington DC. The tower is the home of the Congress Bells, a present from Britain to commemorate the US Bicentennial.
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Healy Hall, Georgetown University
The land originally set aside for the capital was not devoid of settlements. The towns of Georgetown and Alexandria on opposites side of the Potomac River both predate the capital. The University at Georgetown was founded just after the revolution in 1789 to provide a Catholic place of higher learning. The picture shows Healy Hall, opened in 1879 and named after Patrick Healy. He was university president at the time and first black president of an American university. Georgetown University retains its Catholic traditions with all students required to take courses in Philosophy and Theology
Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue
The Renwick Gallery building was designed by James Renwick Jr. to house the collection of American and European art owned by William Wilson Corcoran. Completion was delayed by the Civil War and after it opened in 1874 the collection soon outgrew the building. The collection was relocated in 1897 and the U.S. Court of Claims took over the building in 1899. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an executive order in 1965 transferring the Renwick building to the Smithsonian Institution for use as a ‘gallery of arts, craft and design.’ It is now a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Washington Monument & US Capitol from Lincoln Monument
This picture provides a quick guide to the layout of Washington D.C. It was taken from the steps of the Lincoln Monument, a very famous place in the history of U.S. Civil Rights as it was from these steps that Martin Luther King Junior delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963. The tall white monument in the middle of the picture is the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol is just visible directly behind it. The White House is to the left of the Washington Monument, hidden behind trees.
We have other pages on Washington DC. Click below or on the Minimap: