It takes a lot of talent to design a city, especially one with such sweeping vistas and wide, radial streets as our Nation’s Capital. It’s hard not to admire the vision of Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the engineer behind Washington, D.C. But everybody makes mistakes—even visionaries— and L’Enfant was certainly no exception.
His biggest blunder was probably tearing down the house of his boss’s nephew.
On April 28, 1909, a funeral procession nearly a mile long paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street, complete with fine carriages and a military escort. Throughout Washington, D.C., flags were displayed at half mast, spectators lined the streets, and school children were allowed a break from their studies to glimpse out the window and see it pass by. The man they were there to honor was Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant… who died in 1825.
Eastern Market has been a place of social gathering in Capitol Hill since its construction in 1873. Despite many efforts to shutter the market and a devastating fire in 2007, the market endures as a Southeast institution.
Just within sight of the Washington Monument is a little stone house not open to the public. Used for National Park Service storage today, this house is the last remnant of one of the biggest mistakes in municipal planning in the District’s history: the Washington City Canal.
The canal was first conceived of by architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant. He envisioned something grand like, well, the Grand Canal at Versailles. George Washington thought the canal was a good idea because it would increase commerce by bringing goods directly into the city center.
But, right from the beginning, the proposed canal was plagued with problems.