Original Plan of
Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825)
Plan of the city intended for the
seat of the government . . .
Manuscript map on paper, 1791
Geography & Map Division
Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's 1791 plan for the city of Washington
is one of the great landmarks in city planning. It was, L'Enfant
claimed, "a plan whol[l]y new," designed from its inception to
serve as the framework for the capital city of the new nation
beginning in the year 1800. Its scheme of broad radiating avenues
connecting significant focal points, its open spaces, and its
grid pattern of streets oriented north, south, east, and west
is still the plan against which all modern land use proposals
for the Nation's Capital are considered.
L'Enfant (1754-1825) was born in France and educated as an architect
and engineer. Caught up in the spirit of the American Revolutionary
War, he came to America at the age of twenty-two and served with
honor as an officer in the Corps of Engineers of the Continental
Army. On September 11, 1789, he wrote to President George Washington
in order "to sollicit [sic] the favor of being Employed in the
Business" of designing the new city. At this early date, L'Enfant
already perceived "that the plan should be drawn on such a scale
as to leave room for that aggrandizement & embellishment which
the increase of the wealth of the Nation will permit it to pursue
at any period how ever remote."
"An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of
the Government of the United States," was signed into law on July
16, 1790. After giving cursory consideration to other locations,
George Washington selected a site for the seat of government with
which he was very familiar--the banks of the Potomac River at
the confluence of its Eastern Branch, just above his home at Mount
Vernon. Selected by Washington to prepare a ground plan for the
new city, L'Enfant arrived in Georgetown on March 9, 1791, and
submitted his report and plan to the president about August 26,
1791. It is believed that this plan is the one that is preserved
in the Library of Congress.
After showing L'Enfant's manuscript to Congress, the president
retained custody of the original drawing until December 1796,
when he transferred it to the City Commissioners of Washington,
D.C. One hundred and twenty-two years later, on November 11, 1918,
the map was presented to the Library of Congress for safekeeping.
In 1991, to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the
plan, the Library of Congress, in cooperation with the National
Geographic Society, the National Park Service, and the United
States Geological Survey, published an exact-size, full-color
facsimile and a computer-assisted reproduction of the original
manuscript plan. These reproductions are the Library's first facsimiles
to be based on photography and electronic enhancement technology.
During this process, it was possible to record faint editorial
annotations made by Thomas Jefferson, which are now virtually
illegible on the original map.