THE CITY OF WASHINGTON, D.C.

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Conflicting reports place the birth and founding of the nation's capital in both 1790 and 1791. The blocks of 10 square miles which both Maryland and Virginia ceded in 1791 were melded into the tiled square which sits astride the Potomac River.

The city was to be founded as a replacement for the eight cities which hosted sessions of the Continental Congress. President George Washington chose the land in the District of Columbia, between Maryland and Virginia, because of its close proximity to his own property in the Northern part of Virginia.

President Washington commissioned Pierre L'Enfant, a French architect, to design the new city. L'Enfant's original name, Washingtonople, didn't last; however, parts of his dream for the layout still exist today, including the Washington Monument.

L'Enfant was fired partially into the construction of Washington, D.C., and was replaced by city survey or Andrew Ellicott (whose father founded Ellicott City, Maryland). Ellicott replaced L'Enfant's name on the design map with his own, and construction work resumed.

In an attempt to finish the city by 1800, the appointed city commissioners announced a contest for Capitol Building and Presidential Mansion designs. Entries came from far and wide, and even from a mysterious person who signed "A.Z." on their intricate design for the Presidential Mansion (later revealed to be then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson).

Both the War of 1812 and the Civil War took their toll on Washington, D.C., requiring serious repair or restoration. While the Capitol was restored from the damage it incurred during the War of 1812, the Presidential Mansion was destroyed and had to be redesigned and rebuilt. The new design was named the "White House" for the color of the exterior walls.

Other design changes forced corrections in the original and re-designed plans for the city. Even the Washington Monument was affected, forced to a new construction site slightly west of its original intended position. This correction was due to foundation problems caused by the marshy, damp soil upon which all of Washington, D.C., was built. Other minor diversions from L'Enfant's original plan included changing the design of some main intersections, building them as traffic circles, rather than as squares. His vision of the long, wide avenue was preserved, best exemplified by the National Mall.


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