American History and Genealogy Project

Washington City, Dist. of Columbia

Washington City, Dist. of Columbia, the capital of the United States, is situated on the e. side of the Potomac, 295 miles from the ocean, by the course of the river and bay, and is in 38° 32' 54" n. lat. and 77° 1' 48" w. lon. from Greenwich. It is 38 miles s. w. from Baltimore; 136 from Philadelphia; 225 from New York; 432 from Boston; 856 from St. Louis; 544 from Charleston, S. C.; 662 from Savannah, Ga.; 1,203 from New Orleans. The population in 1800, was 3.210; in 1810, 8,208; in 1820, 13,247; in 1830, 18,827; in 1840, 23,364. Employed in commerce, 103; in manufactures and trades, 886; navigating the ocean, 45; do. rivers and canals, 25; learned professions, 83.

The city stands on a point of land between the Potomac and the Anacostia or Eastern branch. The city contains a little over 8 square miles, and upwards of 5,000 acres. The ground is in general about 40 feet above the level of the river, and there are some moderate elevations, on two of which stand the Capitol and the President's house. The city is regularly laid out in streets running north and south, and crossed by others at right angles, running east and west. But the different parts of the city are connected by broad avenues, which traverse the rectangular divisions, diagonally. Where the intersection of these avenues with each other and with the streets would form many acute angles, considerable rectangular or circular open grounds are left, which, when the city shall be built up, will give it an open appearance. The avenues and streets leading to public places are from 120 to 160 feet wide, and the other streets are from 70 to 110 feet wide. The avenues are named after the states of the Union, and the other streets, beginning at the Capitol, are denoted by the letters of the alphabet, as A. north and A. south, B. north and B. south, &c.; and east and west, they are designated by numbers, as 1st east, 1st west, &c. Pennsylvania avenue, between the Capitol and the President's house, contains the most dense population, and is much the finest street in the city. Five of the avenues radiate from the Capitol, and five others from the President's house, giving these prominent places the most ready communication with all parts of the city. The buildings of Washington consist of scattered clusters; nor is it probable that the magnificent plan of the city will soon be built up. Three things are requisite to sustain a large city, one of which, it is to be hoped, will never be found in the United States. There must be extensive commerce, or manufactures, or an expensive and luxurious court, with the multitudes which a luxurious court draws around it, to expend their money. This last constitutes a great item in the support of some European cities. Washington cannot be expected to become a very great commercial or manufacturing place; and though the chief men of the government, and the national legislature, and the multitudes whom they draw around them, do much toward the prosperity of Washington, the money thus expended is too small in amount to constitute a main reliance of a large city. Baltimore, in the vicinity, will be likely to surpass Washington in commerce and manufactures, for a long time to come. The growth of Washington, however, has been considerably extensive, and it is continually increasing; and probably the bustle of a large city would not much improve it as a seat for the national congress. It enjoys the two important requisites for health, pure air and good water, and there is much elegant and refined society, rendering it a pleasant place of residence.

The public buildings of Washington have a splendor becoming a great nation. The Capitol is probably the finest senate house in the world, and it is fit that the most august legislative assembly on earth should be thus accommodated. The ground on which the Capitol stands is elevated 73 feet above the level of the tide, and affords a commanding view of the different parts of the city, and of the surrounding country. The building, which is of freestone, covers an area of more than an acre and a half; the length of the front is 352 feet, including the wings; the depth of the wings is 121 feet. The centre building is surmounted by a lofty dome; and there are 2 less elevated domes, one toward each end. A projection on the east or main front, including the steps, is 65 feet wide; and another on the west front, with the steps, is 83 feet wide. In the projection on the east front, there is a noble portico of 22 lofty Corinthian columns; and in the west front there is a portico of 10 Corinthian columns. The height of the building to the top of the dome is 120 feet. Under the dome in the middle of the building is the Rotundo, a circular room 95 feet in diameter, and of the same height, adorned with sculptures representing in relief Smith delivered by Pocahontas, the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth, Penn treating with the natives, and a fight of Boone with the Indians; and 4 magnificent paintings by Trumbull, with figures as large as life, representing the presentation to Congress of the Declaration of Independence, the capture of Burgoyne, the surrender of Cornwallis, and Washington resigning his commission to Congress. Another painting, the baptism of Pocahontas, by Chapman, has recently been added. The Rotundo has recently received a splendid additional ornament in Greenough's statue of Washington, a colossal figure in a sitting posture, twice as large as life. On the west of the Rotundo is the Library room of Congress, 92 feet by 34, and is 36 feet in height, containing, in arched alcoves, 20,000 volumes. In the second story of the south wing of the Capitol is the Hall of the House of Representatives, of a semi-circular form, 96 feet long and 60 high, with a dome supported by 24 beautiful columns of variegated marble from the Potomac, with capitals of Italian marble, of the Corinthian order. The circular wall is surrounded by a gallery for men, and the chord of the arc, back of the Speaker's chair, has a gallery for the ladies. The room is ornamented with some fine statuary and paintings, and the whole furniture of it is elegant. The Senate Chamber is in the second story of the north wing of the Capitol, and is semi-circular like that of the Representatives, but smaller, being 75 feet long and 45 feet high. The Vice-president's chair is canopied by a rich crimson drapery, held by the talons of a hovering eagle. A gallery of light bronze running  round the arc in front of the Vice-president's chair, is mainly appropriated to ladies. There is another gallery above and behind the chair, supported by fine Ionic columns of variegated marble. A magnificent chandelier hangs in the centre of the room, and the whole appearance and furniture of the room are splendid. Below the Senate Chamber, and of nearly the same form and dimensions, but much less elegant, is the room of the Supreme Court of the United States; and there are in the building 70 rooms for the accommodation of committees and officers of Congress. The grounds around the Capitol are spacious, containing 22 acres, highly ornamented with graveled walks, shrubbery, and trees, a naval monument ornamented with statuary, and fountains, and the whole is enclosed by a handsome iron railing. The whole cost of the building has exceeded $2,000,000.

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The President's house, a mile and a half n. w. from the Capitol, is an elegant edifice of freestone, 2 stories high, with a lofty basement, and is 170 feet long and 86 wide, the n. front of which is ornamented with a fine portico of 4 lofty Ionic columns, projecting with 3 columns. The outer intercolumniation is for carriages to drive under, to place company under shelter. It stands in the centre of a plat of ground of 20 acres, beautifully laid out and highly ornamented. It is elevated 44 feet above tide-water, and the southern front presents a grand and beautiful prospect. The apartments within are admirably fitted to their purpose, and splendidly furnished. On the e. side of the President's house are two large buildings, and on the w. side two large buildings for the departments of State, of the Treasury, of War, and of the Navy. The General Post-Office and the Patent-Office are also extensive buildings. These, with the new Treasury building, have been recently erected, to supply the place of those which were burned a few years since. The new Treasury building contains 150 rooms, and when completed, will contain 250. It has a splendid colonnade, 457 feet in length. The General Post-Office contains about 80 rooms, and is of the Corinthian order, with columns and pilasters, on a rustic base. The Patent-Office, in addition to other spacious apartments, has one room in the upper story 275 feet by 65, and when completed by wings, according to the original design, will be upwards of 400 feet in length. It is considered one of the most splendid rooms in America, and is devoted to the grand and increasing collections of the national institution. The portico of this building is of the same extent as that of the Parthenon, at Athens, consisting of 16 columns, in double rows, 50 feet high. In the war-office was formerly kept the fine collection of Indian portraits, painted from the original heads by King. These valuable pictures are now in the custody, and adorn the collections of the National Institution, in the patent-office.

The Navy Yard is on the Eastern branch, about three fourths of a mile s. e. of the Capitol, and contains 27 acres. It has houses for the officers, and shops and warehouses, and 2 large ship houses, a neat armory, and every kind of naval stores. Several ships of war, some of which were of the largest class, have been built at this yard. There are also in the city an Arsenal, a City Hall, an Hospital, a Penitentiary, a Theatre &c.

Washington is separated from Georgetown by Rock creek, over which are 2 bridges. A substantial pile bridge, over a mile in length, crosses the Potomac, and leads to Alexandria. There is a bridge, also, over the Anacostia, or Eastern branch. This river has water of sufficient depth for frigates to ascend to the navy yard, without being lightened. Vessels requiring 14 feet of water can come up to the Potomac bridge. By means of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, a communication is opened with a rich back country; and it may be expected that the commerce of Washington will increase. The Washington canal is a continuation of this canal through the city. It extends from the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, at 17th-street, west, to which it is connected by a lock at that street, to the Eastern branch. The canal and all the basins are walled with stone on both sides. From 17th to 14th street, is a spacious basin, 500 feet wide; from 14th to 6th street, where there is another ample basin, its width is 150 feet; and from 6th street to its termination in the Eastern branch, its width varies from 45 to 80 feet; and its depth is 4 feet below tide throughout. At its eastern termination is another spacious basin and wharf, which extends to the channel. This canal has been greatly neglected, and is much out of repair. The expense of this canal has been over $230,000.

There were in the city in 1840, 106 stores, cap. $926,040; 6 lumber yards, cap. $57,000; precious metals manufactured to the amount of $13,000; various other metals $17,300; 2 tanneries, cap. $2,000; 1 brewery, cap. $63,000; 2 potteries, cap. $3,250; 1 rope-walk, 1 grist m., 11 printing offices, 9 binderies, 3 daily, 5 weekly, 5 semi-weekly newspapers, and 3 periodicals, cap. $149,500; 30 brick and stone, and 23 wooden houses built, cost $86,910. Total cap. in manufac. $336,275.

The Columbian College was incorporated by an act of Congress, in 1821. It is delightfully situated on elevated ground n. of the President's house, about 2½ miles from the Capitol. The buildings are a college edifice, 5 stories high, including the basement and the attic, having 48 rooms for students, with 2 dormitories attached to each, 2 dwelling-houses, for professors, and a philosophical hall, all of brick. It has a medical department attached. The Medical College is situated at the corner of 10th and E streets, at equal distances from the Capitol and the President's house. In the several departments are a president, 10 professors, and in the college proper, about 25 students. There are about 4,200 books in its libraries. The commencement is on the first Wednesday of October. The whole number of alumni is 97. It is under the direction of the Baptists.

There were in the city in 1840, 12 academies, with 609 students, 9 primary and common schools, with 380 scholars.

The National Institution for the Promotion of Science, was organized in May, 1840. The President of the United States is patron; the heads of departments constitute 6 directors on the part of the government, and 6 literary and scientific gentlemen are directors on the part of the institution. Its stated monthly meetings are held in the patent-office building. Its collections are deposited in the grand hall of this building, 275 feet long and 65 feet wide, and constitute a rapidly increasing scientific museum. The United States exploring expedition has added largely to its curiosities. The Historical Society and the Columbian Institute have united with it, with their libraries and collections. They have a valuable mineralogical cabinet. It is proposed to bring out regularly volumes of transactions. If properly fostered, it may become an honor to the nation. The Union Literary Society has been in existence for many years, and holds a weekly discussion  in the lecture room of the medical college, and is well attended. Sectarian religion and party politics are excluded from its discussions. The City Library contains about 6,000 volumes.

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The city contains 21 places of worship, of which the Presbyterians have 4, the Episcopalians 3, the Baptists 3, the Methodists 3, Protestant do. 1, Roman Catholics 3, the Africans 2, and the Unitarians and Friends 1 each.

There are 2 orphan asylums. There are 3 banks, with an aggregate capital of $1,500,000; and 2 insurance companies, with an aggregate capital of $450,000.

The congressional burial ground is in the eastern section of Washington, about a mile and a half from the Capitol, and contains about 10 acres of ground, near the Eastern branch. The grounds are tastefully laid out and neatly kept. It has already received a number of distinguished men, and has some fine monuments, and a vault in which bodies are placed that are awaiting a removal.

This city was fixed on as the future seat of the government in accordance with the suggestion of the great man whose name it bears, and the ground on which it stands was ceded to the United States in December, 1788. The owners of the land gave one half of it, after deducting streets and public squares, to the United States to defray the expenses of the public buildings. Such grounds as should be wanted by the United States was to be paid for at the rate of $66.66 cents per acre. It was laid out by 3 commissioners, in 1791, and surveyed under the direction of Andrew Ellicot. The seat of the federal government was removed to this place in 1800. The north wing of the Capitol was commenced in 1793, and finished in 1800, at an expense of $480,202. The south wing was commenced in 1803, and finished in 1808, at an expense of $308,808. The centre building was commenced in 1818, and finished in 1827, at an expense of $957,647. In August, 1814, Washington was captured by the British, under Gen. Ross, who set fire to the Capitol, the President's house, and the public offices, with the exception of the patent-office, which was saved by the solicitation of its superintendent. The library of Congress was burned, and was afterwards replaced by the purchase of that of Mr. Jefferson, consisting of 7,000 volumes, for $23,000, in 1815.

Table of Contents

Source: A Complete Descriptive And Statistical Gazetteer Of The United States Of America, By Daniel Haskel, A. M and J. Calvin Smith, Published By Sherman & Smith, 1843

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