What Problems Did Pierre LEnfant Encounter in Buil Essay

This essay has a total of 1740 words and 8 pages.


What Problems Did Pierre LEnfant Encounter in Building Washington DC






Washington D.C., the capital of the United States of America, stands today as a monument
to our country’s unity and independence. “Its scheme of broad radiating
avenues connecting significant focal points, its open spaces, and its grid pattern of
streets” is credited to the genius of the French architect and engineer Pierre
Charles L’Enfant. However, the process of designing and building Washington was far
from easy a task for L’Enfant and he was not given due credit for his design until
years after his death. L’Enfant was born in Paris in 1754; he studied at the Royal
Academy, and then left for America to fight in the Revolutionary War. He served in the
Corps of Engineers under Baron Von Steuben during the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.
He was wounded in 1779, and was later captured by the British. In 1783 the Continental
Congress awarded him the rank of Major. He remained in America after the war and gained a
“reputation as an urban designer and architect.”

The purpose of this paper is to examine the problems that Pierre L’Enfant
encountered in designing and building Washington D.C. What delays did the project have
and how might they have been avoided? Why was L’Enfant dismissed from his work in
1792?

L’Enfant wrote to Washington in September of 1789 before the site of the city was
chosen formally requesting the job of designing the capital. Washington was familiar with
L’Enfant, having seen his 1787 renovation of New York’s city hall. He hired
L’Enfant and later justified his decision saying, “He was better qualified
than any one who had come within my knowledge in this country”

Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State at this time, he had his own reservations as to
how the capital city should be designed and was resolved to keep tight reign on
L’Enfant’s activities. Washington gave L’Enfant verbal instructions to
go to Georgetown and assist in the completion of a map and survey of the plot of land
reserved for the capital. This is where the problems began. L’Enfant commenced his
survey of the area on March 11, 1791. He soon wrote a letter to Jefferson saying that he
had begun the survey, but was plagued by a thick mist that had hung over the area. He
also said that, having ridden over the entire area himself, it appeared to be a good
location for the capital. Jefferson was upset by these revelations for Washington had
planned a trip to the site on the 28th of March. Washington arrived on schedule, and was
not pleased to find the survey and map incomplete. He made an attempt to observe the site
himself, but was hampered by rain and stated that he had “derived no great
satisfaction from the review.”

L’Enfant wrote a letter of apology to Washington on April 4 asking for his opinion
of the site, and for any further instructions that he may have. It was Jefferson,
however, who replied to the letter. In it he stated “I am happy that the President
has left the planning of the Town in such good hands and have no doubt it will be done to
general satisfaction.” Jefferson had relinquished his reservations about
L’Enfant having seen that his plan for the capital was even more ambitious that his
own. The new plan was “quite in line with his own hopes and reservations,”
for it “superimposed a radial system of avenues of Jefferson’s grid street
design” and preserved the “general arrangement of the main elements that
Jefferson had suggested.”

On June 22 L’Enfant met with Washington at Mount Vernon to give him a progress
report. Washington expressed only brief concerns about the location of the
President’s house. Construction on the site began, the site was cleared,
foundations were dug, and surveyors marked the street lines. Jefferson wrote to
L’Enfant on August 18 to notify him of his upcoming visit to Philadelphia and asking
him to have his city plan made into an engraving. L’Enfant drew up a copy for the
engraver and met with Jefferson in Philadelphia to further discuss it.

At this time Daniel Carroll, David Stuart, and Thomas Johnson were appointed commissioners
by Washington to supervise the actual construction and development of the land. The
commissioners came to several agreements pending to the project and wrote to
L’Enfant to inform him. They agreed that the district would be called the
“Territory of Columbia” and the city name would be “City of
Washington.” Thus L’Enfant must title his map “A Map of the City of
Washington, in the Territory of Columbia.” They also agreed to name the streets
alphabetically from north to south, and numerically from east to west of the Capitol.

At this time, relations between all parties involved in the planning of the city were in
good standing and L’Enfant’s plan was established. This is when problems for
L’Enfant began to arise.

L’Enfant’s problems began with the engraving of the plan that Washington had
requested. L’Enfant made arrangements with a French engraver Pigalle to have a
completed engraving of the plan before October of 1791. The Commissioners needed the
engraving to sell the lots in the capital. Pigalle wrote to L’Enfant saying that it
would not be possible to complete the engraving by the deadline. L’Enfant
immediately wrote to Tobias Lear, Washington’s secretary, expressing his apologies
and stating that he was not to blame for the situation. Thus the sale of lots took place
without the engraving and Washington did not blame L’Enfant for this. However a
controversy arose, as it appears L’Enfant had a personal copy of the plan but
refused to make it available during the sale. Washington wrote a letter to Commissioner
David Stuart informing him of this and stated “…that he [L’Enfant] must
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