February 26, 2020
Exploring Washington, DC Then and Now!
Life in early Washington, DC was pretty rustic! When building began on the new Capital City, the surrounding land consisted of dense forests, farmland and many wide fields. There were only Native Americans and a few tobacco farmers living nearby. The city had no paved roads, only dirt ones at best, open sewers and much of it flooded periodically when the Tiber Creek overflowed its boundaries. How very messy!
Jenkins Hill (today known as Capitol Hill) was the chosen site for the new Capitol Building and around it a city soon began to grow—pubs, boarding houses and markets began to spring up. How promising!
You probably would not have enjoyed living in Washington, DC in 1800, the year President John Adams (our 2nd president) and Mrs. Adams moved into the just built (and still unfinished) President’s House. Mrs. Adams certainly did not enjoy it! Besides the general inconveniences of the new city itself, the roof of the President’s House had not been fully completed. There was no glass in many of the windows on the House. Water for President and Mrs. Adams had to be hauled from a half-mile away and there was not a single bathroom in the President's House! But, not to worry—there was a 3-seater outhouse in the back yard. Good thing!!
And what about the rest of the city in the early 19th Century—
Our trendy Georgetown (then called the town of George) was still part of the state of Maryland and it was a booming harbor. But despite it’s prosperity, I’m afraid it had no J Crew store, no Banana Republic store and no antique stores; not even an ice cream parlor or a cupcake shop!
The U.S. Capitol was still under construction and had no dome on it yet.
There were no monuments and memorials on the National Mall. In fact, there was no National Mall!
The land on which Arlington National Cemetery is situated today was vacant but was about to become the home of George Washington Parke Custis, a step-grandson and adopted son of George Washington. Later it would become the home of Robert E. Lee and his wife. During the Civil War it was taken by the North to become the final resting place for soldiers who died fighting for the North. A very interesting fate for the former estate of the Confederate General Robert E Lee, don't you think!
And where were all DC’s neatly laid out streets and frustrating circles in 1800? Still only in Monsieur L’Enfant’s design!
Now, take a look at life in Washington, DC in the early 21st Century
Come with us and we’ll give you a set of photos/drawings of the way the Capital City looked in earlier times. And then we will CHALLENGE you to find the very same sites today!
Are you up for the CHALLENGE?
But wait! It’s not over yet! We’re not through!! We CHALLENGE you to go one step further—can you sketch/write a description of these sites as you imagine they will look in the future?!?
Are you up for the CHALLENGE?
If you really need some help, perhaps we can introduce you to Sally Purdey. She was a tutor in the employ of General and Mrs. Washington at their Mount Vernon estate. So she knows all about life around Washington, DC when it was our new Federal City. Perhaps she can give you some perspective on the past and help you project to the future.
But, no matter what the year and how things change, nothing in Washington, DC will ever be taller than the dome of the U.S. Capitol building.