Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia, ceded by the States of Virginia and Maryland to the United States of America...
ANDREW ELLICOTT / PIERRE L'ENFANT
Published 1792, Philadelphia
Size: 28" X 21"
Condition: Minor creasing. Verso fibre reinforcement on original fold lines. Some surface stains. Thick paper professionally flattened.
A very rare example of the first official city plan of Washington, the future site of the capital of the United States. This historically significant and rare plan of the city of Washington was conceived by Pierre Charles l’Enfant who had been appointed by President George Washington to design the young nation’s Capital on the Potomac River. L’Enfant’s appointment followed the passing of the Residence Actin 1790 which settled the issue of the capital’s permanent location.
The survey for this undertaking was done by Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker. Ellicott also served as L’Enfant’s assistant, who he ultimately replaced in 1792 to finish the undertaking. That being said, although Ellicott took over from L’Enfant, he kept his predecessor’s design for the city plan.
Engravers James Thackera, and John Vallance of Philadelphia and Samuel Hill of Boston were asked to engrave and publish Ellicott’s official plan shortly thereafter.
Ellicott’s plan was also published in a smaller format in The Universal Asylum, and Columbian Magazine in the spring 1792 shortly before Ellicott’s official plan was distributed to the public, who no doubt would have been interested not only in viewing the new capital, but also to potentially invest in and around the city. It is also interesting to note, that although the plan was published in 1792, the intent was to have the Federal government officially relocated to Washington in 1800. This explains the roman numerals MDCCC in the plan’s cartouche.
In viewing L’Enfant and Ellicott’s plan, it is apparent from the annotations that adorn the map, that they had an ambitious vision for the city with wide open spaces and wonderful sight lines created by grand avenues. One of the notations indicates that:
“in order to execute this plan, Mr. Ellicott drew a true Meridional line by celestial observation, which passes through the area intended for the Capitol; this line be
crossed by another due East and West, which passes through the same Area. These lines were accurately measured, and made the basis on which the whole plan was executed.”
This bold design is made even more striking and interesting when it is considered that the location chosen for the new capital of a nation state, barely three year’s old, was on wet and marshy land along the Potomac River. Yet, as the year’s past, L’Enfant and Ellicott’s vision slowly began to take root with the continued growth and increase stature of the capital, and remains to this day, a city design worthy of praise and respect.
As mentioned, two firms were asked to engrave and publish Ellicott’s plan. One from the firm of Thakara & Vallance of Philadelphia, and the other of Samuel Hill of Boston. This particular copy is from Thakara & Vallance which is the larger, and thus, more majestic of the two.