Little Bits of History

Move to District of Columbia

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 17, 2015
Capitol Building in 1800

Capitol Building in 1800

November 17, 1800: For the first time, both chambers of the US Congress meet at the United States Capitol building. On July 9, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act which approved of the creation of a new seat for the United States government along the Potomac River. The exact location for the new city was to be selected by George Washington after he signed the bill on July 16. Both Virginia and Maryland donated lands to be used for the new capital which measured 10 miles on each of its square sides, giving them 100 square miles of land on which to construct the National Government buildings. Georgetown, Maryland and Alexandria, Virginia had already been settled on the lands and were included in the transfer. The borders were surveyed and stone mile markers were places, many of which still exist today.

A new federal city was planned for the north bank of the Potomac and to the east of Georgetown. The city was named for the first President on September 9, 1791 and the district was called Columbia, a poetic name used for the US at the time. Pierre Charles L’Enfant was to plan out the city and envisioned a building in which the newly formed bicameral Congress could meet which he called Congress House. Thomas Jefferson insisted it be called the Capitol. L’Enfant had difficulties with the planning of the city and the buildings and was dismissed in February 1792. In the spring, a contest was opened for designs of the President’s House and the Capitol. The prize was $500 and a lot in the new city. At least ten submissions for the Capitol were submitted. A late entry came way past the deadline, but was selected.

William Thornton’s design was officially approved on April 5, 1793 and Thornton served as the first Architect of the Capitol. The original design for the building was changed twice more before it was built. New additions to the building were added later, as well. On September 18, 1793, George Washington and eight Freesmasons came together to lay the cornerstone which had been made by Caleb Bentley, a silversmith. Construction on both the Capitol and the President’s House, which later became known as the Executive Mansion and is colloquially called the White House, proceeded apace. The supervision of the building passed through many hands, but the Senate north wing was finally completed in 1800.

When first meeting in Washington, D.C., the Senate and the House shared quarters in the north wing. The south wing, the meeting place for the House of Representatives, was not completed until 1811. A temporary pavilion was built for the House and a covered walkway connected the two chambers so members could communicate more effectively. John Adams brought Congress to Washington, D.C. prematurely in the hopes of securing enough Southern votes in the Electoral College to secure a second term as President. It didn’t work and Thomas Jefferson was elected to replace him.

Washington, D.C., has everything that Rome, Paris and London have in the way of great architecture – great power bases. Washington has obelisks and pyramids and underground tunnels and great art and a whole shadow world that we really don’t see. – Dan Brown

I love to go to Washington – if only to be near my money. – Bob Hope

For Philistines like me, the mysteries of Washington can be both perplexing and wondrous. – David Harsanyi

There are a number of things wrong with Washington. One of them is that everyone is too far from home. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Also on this day: The Heidi Game – In 1968, NBC didn’t finish the game, leaving a football game in progress to air the previously scheduled movie.
Point Made – In 1970, the computer mouse was patented.
Delta Phi – In 1827, the fraternity was formed.
Anglo-Swedish War – In 1810, war was declared between two non-combatants.
Fourteenth – In 1950, a new Dalai Lama was placed.

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