Proceeds of the Sale Went to the Construction of the Federal Buildings.
In 1791 Washington was a small, rural community of roughly 300 property owners and more than 500 slaves. While later in the 19th century, city planners would bemoan “growing pains” and seek ways to manage the burgeoning population, in the beginning the task of attracting people to the new federal city was...
In 1791 Washington was a small, rural community of roughly 300 property owners and more than 500 slaves. While later in the 19th century, city planners would bemoan “growing pains” and seek ways to manage the burgeoning population, in the beginning the task of attracting people to the new federal city was a challenge both in urban planning and in drawing citizens to purchase property.
L’Enfant’s highly regarded renovation of Federal Hall in New York, where Washington took his oath of office and the First Congress met, showed that he had an eye for the ornate and symbolic. In late August he took his completed plan to Philadelphia. The President approved but thought it premature to designate the sites of the many buildings and monuments L’Enfant envisioned. Until money flowed in from sales of lots of land, he didn’t want to promise too much. In September the name of the city, Washington, was made official; the District was named after Columbus, recently restyled Columbia by poets and trumpeted as the “goddess” of the Republic, a fit rival for Britannia; the system of naming the streets was agreed upon, state names for diagonal avenues, numbers for north-south streets, and letters for those going east and west (no “J” Street because in dictionaries and lists of the day that letter was still, in the Roman fashion, not distinguished from “I”). Andrew Ellicott was instructed to lay out a handful of 60 by 120 foot home lots just northwest of the President’s house in time for an October 1791 auction.
L’Enfant soon had qualms about that. Since few streets had been cleared, and axemen left a chaos of downed trees, prospective buyers could not truly appreciate his plan. He thought a million dollar loan raised by the government was the best way to finance the simultaneous development of infrastructure throughout the city and along the river shore. With streets, bridges, canals, and quays built and the foundations of the magnificent public buildings dug, perspective buyers could see the true magnificence of the plan. Meanwhile, printers in Philadelphia dragged their feet and did not engrave the plan (perhaps, Washington feared, because Philadelphians wanted the federal city to fizzle so that Philadelphia would remain the capital).
The auction of the lots of land was not delayed, and the original titles to Washington, D.C. passed to the high bidders. L’Enfant himself bought one of the 31 lots sold. Samuel Blodgett, a financier and speculator (and also an acquaintance of George Washington), bought tracts of land. To immediately recoup a portion of his investment, even before dividing his land into individual lots, he sold rights to the lots. These he would subdivide and assign later.
This is Certificate 222 entitling the buyer to a lot from Blodgett’s portion. Document Signed by Samuel Blodgett, Philadelphia, February 7, 1792.“I, Samuel Blodget, junior, of Boston, State of Massachusetts, do hereby bind myself, my heirs and assigns, to convey by an ample Deed to John Dewhurst his heirs or assigns, ONE LOT OF LAND, within the City of Washington. – The situation of said lot shall be determined by lot, in equal chance with more than five hundred lots to be laid out by Government according to the Plan of the said City, and within the Boundaries of that Tract, well known by the name of the JAMAICA FARM.”
The Jamaica Tract appears on early maps of Washington, D.C. as the area bound by 18th Street on the west, 3rd Street on the east, T Street in the north, and M Street to the South – all Northwest. Today, that area comprises Dupont and Logan Circles and the eastern portions of Embassy Row and Rock Creek Park. It is also home to the Phillips Collection.
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