WHEN President Washington returned from his tour of the South in the summer of 1791, and the wheels of the famous cream-colored chariot in which he had taken the memorable ride of 1,900 miles rolled up to the western door of the Mount Vernon mansion, he found a visitor awaiting his coming. The visitor was Maj. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a skillful French engineer, who had been chosen to draw the plan of ” the new Federal town.” The site of the Federal District had been selected by Washington in the January previous, after long and careful deliberation, from the 105 miles of territory embraced in the boundary defined by the act of Congress locating the permanent seat of government. The act was amended by request of the President so as to include the city of Alexandria and adjacent country. Three commissioners, Gov. Thomas Johnson and the Hon. Daniel Carroll, of Maryland, and Dr. David Stuart, of Virginia, were appointed to have entire charge of the surveying and laying out of the district, and on April 15, 1791, they had laid the first boundary stone at Jones’ Point on the Virginia side of the Potomac, with impressive Masonic ceremony, in the presence of a large assemblage. The commissioners had decided to call the district the ” Territory of Columbia,” which name it bore for some years; and the new city to be established on the river bank, the city of Washington,” in honor of him who was at that time, and who in all time shall be, the ” first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Satisfactory terms had been arranged with the proprietors of the land lying within the bounds of the proposed city, and an agreement had been signed by the commissioners and the land-holders. All the land used for streets and squares was to be relinquished to the government without cost, and all the land taken for public buildings was to be paid for at the rate of £25 an acre. One-half of the proceeds of all lots offered at public sale was also to go to the original owners, and the remainder was to be expended in the erection of the government edifices.
Major L’Enfant was cordially received by Washington, and remained at Mount Vernon in consultation with him for nearly a week, during which time the plan of the Federal city was thoroughly matured. L’Enfant, who was an educated soldier, had come to America in 1777 from Paris, and had commended himself to Washington by his patriotic zeal while serving as major of engineers during the Revolutionary War, and a warm friendship had sprung up between them. He had designed the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati at Washington’s special request, and in various ways had demonstrated the possession of marked ability. His plan of the city was very elaborate and magnificent, and it was duly set forth on a finely drawn map. It is believed he partially followed the work of Le Notre in Versailles, the seat of the French government buildings. Broad, transverse streets and avenues, numerous open squares, parks, circles, and triangular reservations were marked on the plan, the places for the public buildings were indicated, and everything was designed upon a spacious scale.
Washington desired that the Capitol” should occupy the centre of the city, and it was accordingly located on the broad plateau in the eastern section, and the Executive Mansion and the other public buildings were located in the western section, more than a mile distant. In one of his letters Washington says that this wide separation of Congress and the Executive departments was intended to prevent members of Congress from too frequently visiting the various departments. L’Enfant’s design meeting the full approval of Washington, and also of Jefferson, then Secretary of State, of whom it was said that ” he almost monopolized the artistic taste and knowledge of the first administration,” it was formally adopted, and the young Frenchman was engaged to superintend its execution. He had as assistant. Andrew Ellicott, a bright Pennsylvanian, who with his brother had established the town of Ellicott Mills, in Maryland. Ellicott was a competent surveyor, and a young man of remarkable intelligence. Later in life he became professor of mathematics at West Point. The streets and squares of the city were chiefly laid out by him, and under his direction the work progressed quite rapidly. Before the erection of any building was allowed an exact survey was made and properly recorded, and all subsequent building operations had to conform to this survey.
The states of Maryland and Virginia were greatly interested in the founding of the seat of the national government within their borders, and generously voted a large sum of money as a gift to the United States, to aid in the erection of the public edifices. After-ward, when it was necessary to obtain more money to carry on the work, and Congress was strangely dilatory in making an appropriation, and European bankers had declined to advance funds to the commissioners, the legislature of Maryland promptly authorized a loan of $100,000 in response to the appeal of President Washington.
The most prominent proprietors of the land taken for the city were Daniel Carroll, David Burns, Notley Young, and Samuel Davidson. The Carroll estate very nearly covered all that part of Washington known as Capitol Hill, and was called Duddington manor. Daniel Carroll was a gentleman of culture and high social standing in Maryland. He had been a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention that framed the Federal Constitution, and a member of the First Congress of the United States. He was a brother of the Rt. Rev. John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of Baltimore, who founded the great college of the Jesuits, at Georgetown, and was a cousin of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As the Capitol was to be located adjacent to his estate, he believed that section would become the most desirable part of the city, and immediately demanded exorbitant prices for building-lots. Speculators, possessed with the same idea, fought a number of his acres, largely with ” promises to pay”; and Stephen Girard, the richest man in Philadelphia in those days, even offered Carroll $200,000 for a certain portion of his estate, but the offer was refused, five times the sum being demanded. The high prices for lots on Capitol Hill compelled many who wished land for the erection of houses and stores to settle in the northern and western parts of the city, and the tide of population rapidly turning that way, forever decided the fate of the eastern quarter. The city developed on its northwestern side, which to-day is the most populous and fashionable section.
Carroll’s dream of great wealth was never realized. At his death he was in embarrassed circumstances, and his estate for a long time after was encumbered with heavy obligations. Recently a portion of the Carroll tract, upon which his descendants had paid $16,000 in taxes during the past eighty years, keeping its possession so long in hope of an advantageous sale, was finally disposed of for $3,600. The spacious Duddington House,” erected in the early days of Washington for the residence of the Carroll family, still remains on North Carolina Avenue, southeast, in a good state of preservation.
An interesting story is told of this ancient brick mansion. Shortly after the streets of the city were marked out strictly in accordance with L’Enfant’s plan, Daniel Carroll, who was one of the commissioners, assumed the right to begin. the erection of his house in the middle of New Jersey Avenue, near the Capitol grounds. L’Enfant vigorously protested against its location, as it would close the avenue and destroy the symmetry of the general plan of the city; but his protests not being heeded, he gave orders one morning to his assistant to demolish the structure. Carroll hurried to a magistrate, obtained a warrant and stopped the demolition before it had proceeded very far. That night, when L’Enfant returned to the city from Acquia Creek, where he was working busily getting out sand-stone for the new Capitol, he was much chagrined to find his orders unfulfilled. He vowed the house should come down, and, organizing a gang of laborers secretly, he took them quietly up the hill after dark, and set them at work. By sunrise, not a brick of the obnoxious dwelling was left standing. Carroll was very indignant at this arbitrary act, and made complaint to the President, who ordered the reconstruction of ” Duddington House,” precisely as it was before, but, very wisely, not in the middle of New Jersey Avenue. This house was the first fine one erected in the city. It is surrounded by a high brick wall, enclosing grounds full of majestic trees, and even now, in its partially dilapidated condition, shows considerable of its former elegance.
A very fortunate man was David Burns, another of the original land-holders. His property was situated largely in what is now the fashionable northwest quarter of the city. Burns” crusty Davie Burns,” as he was calledwas a very bigoted, choleric Scotchman; fond of controversy, and never known to agree with any one in the slightest particular. He lived in a rude cottage near the river, and cultivated a large plantation extending over the spot where the White House now stands. The demand for his land made him very wealthy, and his only child, Marcia Burns, was known in all the country around as ” the beautiful heiress of Washington.” For some time Burns was opposed to the projected transfer of land to the government, and the President and the commissioners had several conferences with him in his cottage to explain the advantages of the plan. On one of these occasions, so the tradition runs, the testy old planter answered one of Washington’s arguments by this outburst: ” I suppose, Mr. Washington, you think people are going to take every grist from you as pure grain; but what would you have been if you hadn’t married the rich widow Custis I” The usually sedate Washington at this audacious remark is said to have actually lost his temper, and left the house in indignation. He afterward spoke of the impertinent Scotchman as that obstinate Mr. Burns,” and would never meet him again.
Miss Burns was placed by her father in a cultivated Baltimore family, where she received an excellent social and literary training. When she returned to Washington after several years’ schooling she became the belle of the embryo city, and attracted many admirer.. She was lovely in person, and gracious and winning in her manner. Her father could not be induced to leave his old housea small, rudely-fashioned structure, with only two rooms on the ground floor, and but little better than the cabins of the slaves who tilled his plantationand, with all his great wealth, would not change his plain way of living. The girl uttered no complaint, but came from the refined Baltimore home at her father’s bidding, and resumed her former life with the lonely man. Her mother had died when she was a child, and for years she had been her fathers sole intimate companion.
Troops of gallants began to seek the favor of the beautiful heiress. The wooers were generally treated to cutting remarks from Burns, and promptly shown the door. Dashing young members of Congress gay fortune-seekers who saw in Marcia a splendid prize picked their way across the marsh to Burns’ hut on fine evenings, craftily allowed the old Scotchman to win their gold at cards, and awakened good feeling by generous gifts of mellow usquebaugh, for which he had a notorious fondness. Gen. John P. Van Ness, a young, well-born, jovial New Yorker, was a frequent visitor. Of an ancient Dutch family prominent in politics and society, a congress-man of some brilliancy, with a very handsome face and agreeable deportment, ever full of song and story, he soon succeeded in winning Marcia’s affection and her father’s sanction, and they were married. Van Ness became a resident of Washington, living at first with his bride in the old cottage, and afterward in a costly mansion erected on the Burns estate. He became mayor of the city, and was eminent in business and social affairs. Gilbert Stuart painted his portrait, and it was said of him that he was ” well fed, well bred, and well read.” When David Burns died he left his daughter the sole owner of a great estate, yearly rising in value. On his death-bed he said to her, ” Marcia, you have been a good daughter; you’ll now be the richest girl in America.”
The Van Ness mansion was constructed by the celebrated Latrobe, one of the architects of the Capitol, and he expended many thousands of dollars in trying to make it the finest private residence in the country. The grounds were enclosed with a brick wall, trees and flowers planted, and fountains and statuary added adornment. Close to the great house, in the same enclosure, stood the old cottage of David Burns, and Mrs. Van Ness would never permit her father’s humble home to be taken down. For a number of years the Van Ness mansion was the resort of the distinguished people of Washington, and presidents and eminent statesmen were entertained within its walls. The last acre of the Burns property passed out of the possession of the heirs fifteen years ago, and now all that remain to tell the story of the Burns and Van Ness families are a great monumental tomb at Oak Hill Cemetery, and the two houses by the riverfather’s and daughter’sdecaying, neglected ruins. The tomb was erected by Van Ness at a cost of over $30,000, and is constructed in imitation of the temple of Vesta. The legend is, that on each anniversary of the death of Van Ness his favorite troop of six white horses” make a ghostly midnight gallop around the old mansion, and that supernatural sounds are heard within its deserted halls.
The third largest land-holder was Notley Young, who held nearly all the land in the centre of the city and on the river front between Seventh and Eleventh streets. Carroll owned the land to the east and Burns to the west of him. He, too, acquired wealth from sales and leases of his property, and erected a substantial residence on G Street south, overlooking the Potomac. The house was taken down thirty years ago to give room for the extension of the street. Of Samuel Davidson, the fourth largest: proprietor, scarcely anything is known.
When the time approached for the first public sale of lots by the commissioners, a difficulty arose between them and Major L’Enfant. After the demolition of Carroll’s house by L’Enfant, he was not in good favor, and as he refused to allow his maps of Washington to be published as a guide to the purchasers of lots, he was dismissed from the service of the government. L’Enfant claimed that, if his maps were published, speculators would know all about his plan, and would build unsightly edifices on the finest streets. He continued to live in the city, and in his old age became a claimant for compensation for his services as the original designer of Washingtonconstantly haunting the committee-rooms of Congress, a poor but rather courtly, feeble old man, attired in a long blue coat closely but-toned high on his breast. His claim was never considered, and it was quite the fashion in those days to laugh and sneer at what was called L’Enfant’s extravagant plan.” He died in 1825, and was buried by charitable hands on the Digges farm, a short distance from the city. No stone marks his grave. L’Enfant’s design has been fully vindicated by time, and to-day the beautiful capital city owes much of its beauty and fascination to the broad streets, the great squares, the parks, the wide, straight avenues, the location of the public buildings, for which he contended with the sublime energy of a liberal, farsighted man, in an age of restricted views and small things.
The first public sale of lots was held by the commissioners at Georgetown, Oct. 17, 1791, and was mainly attended by speculators from the large cities, who were eager to obtain what they considered the best lots, in the belief that Washington was to become the great city of the country. At that time there were less than 6o,000 people in New York; and predictions were freely made that in ten years after Congress begun its sessions in Washington, the national city would have a population of at least 150,000. Even a rumor, industriously circulated at the sale by enemies of the new capital, that Congress never would remove from Philadelphia, made no impression on the confident purchasers of the land. The commissioners executed a number of contracts for the sale of lots in parcels on easy terms, on condition that the buyers should erect ” brick houses, two stories high,” on the property within a certain time. These contracts, entered into with enthusiasm, were mostly repudiated afterward, and the brick houses were not built. Many lots were sold, and at good prices, but prior to the removal of the government to the city the actual residents were few, and the ” new national settlement ” was very insignificant.
The formal transfer of the government from Philadelphia to Washington took place in October, 1800. That it was indeed the day of small things, is evident when we read that ” a single ‘ packet’ sloop brought all the office furniture of the departments, besides seven large boxes and five small ones, containing the ‘ archives ‘ of the government.” The officials numbered fifty-four persons, including President Adams, the secretaries, and the various clerks. They came to the city by different conveyances, and as they had left pleasant, comfortable quarters in Philadelphia, the crudeness and discomfort of Washington produced a feeling of disgust. Mrs. Adams spoke of Washington as ” this wilderness city”; and Secretary Wolcott in a letter to his wife said, ” There are but few houses in any place, and most of them are small, miserable huts, which present an awful contrast to the public buildings. The people are poor, and, as far as I can judge, live like fishes, by eating each other.”
The best description extant of the city, as it appeared at the time the government took possession, is found in a letter written by Hon. John Cotton Smith, then a member of Congress from Connecticut. He says: 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 nearly the whole distance a deep morass covered with elder bushes, which were cut through to the President’s house; and near Georgetown a block of houses had been erected which bore 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 scrub oak bushes on the higher grounds, and on the marshy soil either trees or some sort of shrubbery. The desolate aspect of the place was not a little augmented by a number of unfinished edifices at Greenleaf’s Point, and on an eminence a short distance from it, commenced by an individual whose name they bore, but the state of whose funds compelled him to abandon them. There appeared to be but two really comfortable habitations in all respects, within the bounds of the city, one of which belonged to Dudley Carroll and the other to Notley Young. The roads in every direction were muddy and unimproved. A sidewalk was attempted in one instance by a covering formed of the chips hewed for the Capitol. It extended but a little way and was of little value; for in dry weather the sharp fragments cut our shoes, and in wet weather covered them with white mortar. In short, it was a new settlement.”
Such was the capital city in which President John Adams, Secretary of State John Marshall, Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Secretary of War Samuel Dexter, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddart, and the other officials of the government took up their abode in the fall of i800, twenty-four years after the Declaration of Independence. Congress began its session a few weeks later, and many and loud were the complaints of the new capital uttered by all the assembled statesmen.
Newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, and New England, and satirists everywhere, cracked many amusing jokes at the expense of the infant city. The Capitol was called ” the palace in the wilderness,” and Pennsylvania Avenue the great Serbonian Bog.” Georgetown was declared ” a city of houses without streets; Washington, a city of streets without houses.” Only one favorable thing seems to have been said, and that was, ” Washington is the happiest region of flowers, and a garden here might be made to yield some-thing for the basket of Flora for nearly three-quarters of the year.”
When we consider the jealousy and opposition displayed toward the city, it is small wonder that it required the fostering hand of several kindly administrations before it appeared likely that Washington would remain the permanent seat of the government. During the administrations of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, the city improved considerably. Jefferson secured. money from Congress for the public buildings, planted poplar trees on Pennsylvania Avenue,. and did what he could to make that ” Appian Way of the Republic” something better than a slough of despond.” He applied his artistic skill and taste to the work of beautifyng the capital. Population increased at the rate of about eight hundred a year; and when, after the invasion by the British in 1814, the vexed question of removing the capital was settled by Congress appropriating liberal sums to re-store the public buildings damaged during the invasion, the city had nothing to hinder its steady growth.
The invasion of Washington by the British troops under General Ross, Aug. 24, 1814, was a severe blow to the weak and slowly growing city. It had been apprehended for some weeks that the city would be attacked, and President Madison had taken various preventive measures, which, however, proved futile. The British fleet, under command of Admiral Cockburn, sailed up Chesapeake Bay, and 4,500 men were landed on the left bank of the Patuxent River on the 21st of August, with orders to march on Washington. The residents of the city were warned of the approach of the British, and many of them hastily left their homes and found refuge in Virginia. The invaders marched across Maryland to Bladensburg, five miles from the capital, without hinderance; but at this place their advance was stopped by a body of raw militia, organized from residents of Maryland and the District, under command of General Winder, and a few hundred seamen with field-pieces under Capt. Joshua Barney, the celebrated privateersman. The American troops numbered about seven thousand, but they were so badly handled that almost at the first fire from the British the militia broke in disorder and could not be rallied again. Barney’s sailors stood their ground and fought desperately for nearly three hours, but at last were compelled, from sheer lack of numbers, to abandon their position on the Bladensburg turnpike, and fall back to Georgetown Heights. President Madison and other prominent officials of the government had sought safety at Montgomery Court House, in Maryland.
The way to Washington now being open, the British continued their march, and on the evening of August 24, they halted in front of the unfinished Capitol. Orders were given to burn all the public edifices, and in a short time the Capitol, the White House, and the Executive buildings were in flames. The troops dispersed throughout the city, burning and destroying a large amount of private as well as public property. They visited the arsenal on Greenleaf’s Point and attempted to destroy several large cannon left by the garrison in the haste of their departure, by discharging one against the others. When the piece was fired, some of the wadding fell into a well in which a large quantity of powder was secreted, and a tremendous explosion ensued, killing a number of the British. The records of the War, Treasury, and Navy Departments were nearly all burned, and the records of the State Department were only saved by the energy of several clerks, who packed them into bags and transported them to a secure place in the country.
While the public buildings were burning a severe storm began, and the drenching rain fortunately extinguished the fires at the Capitol and White House, and saved them from total destruction. The enemy left the city late that night, fearing an attack under cover of the darkness, and in a few days the British fleet, which had come as far as Alexandria, sailed down the Potomac. The amount of dam-age done by the invasion was estimated at $1,000,000. About seventy-five Americans were killed and wounded, and the British suffered a loss of several hundred men.
At this period nearly all the field and domestic labor in and around Washington was performed by slaves. The rich planters employed hundreds of negroes to cultivate their fertile acres, and the relations between the slaves and their masters were very different from what they were in the regions farther south. The slaves were usually treated with kindness, well clothed and fed, and were apparently as happy and contented as human beings could be in bondage. They were very civil and well behaved, and took great pride in ornamenting their little cabins, and many of them had very neat and comfortable homes. They were allowed, on many plantations, good pay for extra labor, and often saved money enough by industry to purchase their freedom. The culture of tobacco made many of the planters very wealthy, some of them raising one hundred hogsheads yearly of the ” Indian weed that from the devil doth proceed,” as the quaint old poem has it. The tobacco was largely shipped to Europe. It was brought to the place of shipment in this way: A hole was bored in the heads of the hogshead, and an a.3 le placed in it from end to end. A shaft was attached to the axle like the shaft of a cart, and horses and mules hitched to it. The tobacco was then drawn along the streets, up and down the hills, rolling and bumping over the stones.
An ancient register has the following estimate of the yearly expenses of a slave: ” His price about $500, which at 6 per cent.,the lawful interest, is $30; for risk or accident, $30; for a peck of Indian meal per week or 13 bushels per year at 50 cents, $6.50; two pounds of salt meat per week, $7.50; a barrel of fish per annum, $4; fowls, vegetables and milk per annum, $5; for clothing, $15total for the year, $98; or daily expense of 27 cents.” The slaves assumed the names of their masters, and many of these old family names are continued today among the negro population of the city. In April, 1862, slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia.
It is interesting to learn the rates of free labor in those days. A shoemaker who could make one good pair of shoes daily was paid $1.50, and in the other trades wages varied from 75 cents to $1.25 a day. Laborers obtained 50 cents a day. A seamstress received $4.50 a month and board; female servants, from $2.00 to $4.00 a. month, with the exception of cooks, who were paid from $15 to $20. Coachmen who could handle two and four horses expertly, demanded. $10 a month and board. Food was cheap, land easy to obtain, and houses could be built for little money of brick made from the finest. clay, abundantly found in the city. Gray and blue granite, the breccia marble, or pudding stone,” as it was commonly called, and sand-stone were also to be had at comparatively little cost for public buildings. The so-called ” luxuries of life” were not very plenty, with the exception of ” ice and pineapples.” Ice could be readily obtained in summer for fifty cents a bushel, and pineapples from the West In-dies were sold for twenty-five cents apiece.
An English writer in 1816 gave the following quaint description of the state of female society in Washington: ” The women have been accused of sacrificing too much to the empire of fashion, but as we have not been able to verify the truth of this charge, it would be dangerous to decide on so delicate a subject. They are certainly superior women, generally highly gifted in mental as they are adorned with personal endowments. They have hitherto withstood the lamentable ravages which art and luxury have in the great cities produced upon their sex. There is an evil, however, which is deeply lamented. It is natural to love those who are made to love; and no sooner do the young ladies of Washington arrive at the nubile state than they give their hand to some wooing stranger, or member of Congress, who carries them off in triumph to his distant home. The young citizens who have been daily contemplating the regular advances of these shoots into perfection, disappointed in their ardent intentions, sigh and exclaim (not without reason) against the corruption of the time, against family interests and an unnatural and disheartening preference to foreigners. Washington thus resembles a nursery, whose fine plants are annually transported to a foreign and less congenial soil.”
The same author says: “In the Territory of Columbia women have no reason to complain of the degradation to which they are ex-posed by the tyrant, man. They go where they please, both before and after marriage, and have no need to have recourse to dissimulation and cunning for their own repose and that of their husbands. Any particular attention to a lady is readily construed into an intention of marriage. At dinner and tea parties the ladies sit together,. and seldom mix with the gentlemen, whose conversation naturally turns upon political subjects. Gentlemen wear their hats in a carriage with a lady, as in England. In almost all houses toddy is offered to guests a few minutes before dinner. In summer, invitations to tea-parties are made verbally, by a servant, the same day the party is given. In winter the invitation is more ceremonious. The parties. at the house of the President of the United States unite simplicity with the greatest refinement of manner. The inhabitants are social and hospitable, and respectable strangers, after the slightest introduction, are invited to dinner, tea, balls, and evening parties. Tea-parties have become very expensive, as not only tea, but coffee, negus, cakes, sweetmeats, iced creams, wines and liquors are often presented; and, in a sultry summer evening, are found too palatable to be refused. In winter there is a succession of family balls, where all this species of luxury is exhibited.”
This intelligent Englishman, in speaking of some of the peculiar customs prevailing in Washington at the time of his visit in 1816, says: ” Both sexes, whether on horseback or on foot, wear an umbrella in all seasons: in summer, to keep off the sunbeams; in win-ter, as a shelter from the rain and snow; in spring and autumn, to intercept the dews of the evening. Persons of all ranks canter their horses, which movement fatigues the animal, and has an ungraceful appearance. The barber arrives on horseback to perform the operation of shaving, and here, as in Europe, he is the organ of all news and scandal. Boarders in boarding-houses, or in taverns, sometimes throw off the coat during the heat of summer; and in winter, the shoes, for the purpose of warming the feet at the fire customs which the climate only can excuse.”
During the administration of Monroe extensive improvements were made in all parts of the city, and large sums of money expended for public works. Several fine residences were erected by high officials of the government and wealthy citizens. The sales of government lots realized nearly S500,000. Public spirit began to be manifested. In a statistical record bearing date of 1821 is this entry:
Eighty-eight buildings were commenced up to June; a new bridge built, the Center Market enlarged, much progress made in the City Hall, an addition made to the Infirmary, the new theatre finished and the old one rebuilt for assembly rooms; Unitarian Church erected and a Presbyterian Church completed; and a fountain of water opened that yields 6o gallons a minute.” In 1822 the city contained nearly fifteen thousand people, and taxes were assessed upon property valued at $6,668,726. There were 2,229 dwellings, numerous churches, hotels, and stores, and several large public buildings.
In The fall of 1822 a race between two celebrated Virginia horses, ” Sir Charles ” and ” Eclipse,” was the leading topic of conversation in Washington for weeks, and ten thousand people assembled at the trotting-park to witness the contest. President Monroe, and the leading government officials, were among the spectators. It is said that more than a million dollars were wagered. Planters staked their slaves, and in one case eight hundred negroes changed owners after the race. People of high and of low degree were intensely excited, and a great amount of money was lost by men ” who were unable to pay their honest debts to mechanics, grocers, and even washer-women.” ” Eclipse” easily distanced ” Sir Charles,” and its owner received the stake of 55,000, and in addition made a considerable fortune from his wagers.
Another odd scrap of history is worthy of mention. In March, 1823, a great excitement was created in the city by the absconding of the manager of the ” Grand National Lottery,’ after refusing to pay the principal prize of $100,000, and several smaller ones. The city corporation, under whose auspices the lottery was carried on, claimed not to be responsible for the default, and those who held the tickets for the prizes had to go without their money. An article in the National Intelligence about the affair was headed in large letters: ” So We Go I”
During the administration of John Quincy Adams, from 1825 to 1829, Washington had a population of nearly twenty thousand, but it was a slow-going, uninteresting city, with very few signs of promise. Its social life, however, was very agreeable. Society at that time was said to have ” all the hues of many colored life from the highest polish of polite France to the rude dignity of untutored nature. Par-ties were numerous in the winter months, and were well attended by all who were or wished to be thought fashionable.” The popular hotel was the “Indian Queen,” on Pennsylvania Avenue, and its great swinging sign, with a highly-colored picture of Pocahontas, was a conspicuous object. The hotel was noted for its good living, and many members of Congress resided in it. A large part of the city was occupied by market gardens and brick kilns, plentifully interspersed with ponds and marshes. There were no public schools; what were known as ” Gadsby’s Row ” and the ” Seven Buildings” were the ” architectural palaces,” and stray cows and pigs the statuary that adorned the squares and parks. In the sandstone Capitol with a wooden dome, great statesmen were invoking the Goddess of Liberty; and at the slave-pen in the centre of the city, unfeeling auctioneers were selling men, women, and children to the highest bidder.
Even in 184o, M. de Bacourt, the French Minister wrote: ” As for Washington, it is neither a city, nor a village, nor the country: it is a building-yard placed in a desolate spot, wherein living is unbearable.” About this time there was a general renewal of the public buildings, and after 185o the city began to wear a somewhat brighter, more enterprising appearance. Population increased about two thou-sand a year; many substantial business blocks and private residences were constructed; more energy was displayed by the residents; and, although it was still a ” city of magnificent distances,” many of the unsightly spaces were filled, and the former barren, desolate aspect had changed to something better. When the Civil War began, in 1861, Washington had 62,000 people, and was described as ” a big, sprawling city, magnificent in some parts, dilapidated and dirty in others.”
During the years of the Rebellion the city was an extensive military encampment. Its streets resounded with the march of troops, And all its available buildings were used for military purposes. Every-where ” war’s stern alarums ” were heard. Over Long Bridge thou-sands of brave men went to battle on the soil of Virginia. Formidable lines of defenses enclosed the capital, and apprehensions of an attack were constantly felt. In July, 1864, General Early made a demonstration on Washington, hoping thereby to induce General ‘Grant to raise the siege of Richmond. He crossed the Potomac with 12,000 men, defeated General Wallace at Rockville, sixteen miles from the city, and marched on Fort Stevens, on the Seventh Street road. The guns of the fort checked his advance until the Sixth Corps from Petersburg arrived, when he was driven back across the Potomac.
On the evening of the loth of April, 1865, Washington was brilliantly illuminated in celebration of the close of the war, and there was great rejoicing among its loyal people. Four nights after, the city heard with pallid cheek and bated breath that President Lincoln had been stricken down at Ford’s Theatre, on Tenth Street, by the bullet of a cowardly assassin. The rejoicings at the return of peace were changed to bitter lamentations. The colored people were almost wild with grief at the death of the great Emancipator.
President Lincoln was removed from the theatre to the Peterson house, nearly opposite, where he died early on the morning of April 15. The theatre was purchased by the government in 1866, and is at present used for the Army Medical Museum and the record and pension division of the Surgeon General’s Department. The interior was entirely reconstructed, and no trace now remains of the scene of the assassination. On the Peterson house a marble tablet has been placed, bearing the record of Lincoln’s death. The small bed-room in which the President died suggests little now of the sad scenes of that night. The original furniture has been removed, and the pretty, flaxen-haired children of the present owner of the house use the apartment for a play-room. It is proposed that the government purchase the house and make it a museum for the exhibition of articles belonging to President Lincoln.
In May, 1865, the troops under the command of Generals Grant and Sherman marched in grand review through the streets of Washington, prior to their disbanding. Two days were taken for the re-view, which was witnessed by many thousands of people from all parts of the North and the West. During this final march of the largest army of volunteers ever organized in the history of the world,” the city was full of patriotic enthusiasm. As the various generals with their divisions, all wearing the actual accoutrements of the war the boys in blue stained with the soil of Virginia and of Georgia, arid bearing proudly the tattered banners which had waved on many hard-fought battle-fields passed up Pennsylvania Avenue, they were the recipients of long-continued and enthusiastic cheers, and were literally covered with garlands.
For a few years after the war Washington continued to be a very unattractive city. At this time an English tourist wrote of it: ” The whole place looks run up in a night, like the cardboard cities Potemkin erected to gratify the eyes of his imperial mistress on her tour through Russia; and it is impossible to remove the impression that, when Congress is over, the place is taken down and packed up till wanted again.”