Washington in 1789
Old-Time Description of the Nation's Chief City
Population was 24,000
Plan Regarded as Improvement over that of Other Capitals
List of Public Buildings
Alexandria and Georgetown Accorded Special Mention - The Local Harbor Facilities

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 8, 1906 [pt. 7, p. 10]

     (Article contains pictures of Old Washington Seminary and Old St. Patrick's Church)

An edition of the Universal Geography, under date of 1812, a work first published in Boston in 1780, contains a chapter on the District of Columbia, from which some idea of the knowledge instilled into the minds of the youth of the land in the infancy of the capital of the nation is obtained.

The author, Rev. Jedediah Morse, a Congregational minister, describes the District as a square "with a side of ten miles, and of course, contains 100 square miles," recites the cession of this land to and acceptance by the nation in 1790; gives the divisions into the two counties, Washington and Alexandria, and the laws of Maryland governing the former and the laws of Virginia the latter, and says: "Congress, however, makes what laws it pleases for both."

Presbyterians and Episcopalians are the prevailing denominations mentioned, but there are also Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists referred to incidentally, all having places of worship.

The population of the District for 1810 is given as 16,088 whites, 5,359 slaves and 2,540 free blacks, a total of 24, 028. That of 1800 was but 8,140 - 5,652 whites, 2072 slaves and 400 free blacks.

"The manners of the greater part of this District, he says, "are much the same as of those of the states to which they lately belonged. The inhabitants of the city of Washington, recently collected from all parts of the world, and many of them persons of distinction and influence, must, as a body, possess a new character, the features of which are not yet so matured as to be distinctively marked and described."

Topography Considered
Of Washington, he says: "Although the land on which the city is situated in general appears level, yet by gradual swellings a variety of elegant prospects are produced and a sufficient descent formed for conveying off the water occasioned by rain. Within the limits of the city are a great number of excellent springs, and by digging well water of the best quality is found. Besides, the never-failing streams that now run through the District may also be collected for the use of the city."

"The waters of Reedy branch and of Tiber creek may be conveyed to the President's house. The source of the Tiber is elevated about 286 feet above the level of the tide. The perpendicular height of the ground on which the Capitol stands is seventy-eight feet above the level of the tide in Tiber creek. The water of this creek may therefore be conveyed to the Capitol, and after watering that part of the city may be destined to other useful purposes.

"The Eastern branch forms a safe and commodious harbor, being sufficiently deep for the largest ships for about four miles above its mouth, while the channel lies close along the banks adjoining the city, and affords a large and convenient harbor. The Potomac, although navigable for small craft for a considerable distance from its banks next to the city (excepting about half a mile above the junction of the rivers) , will nevertheless afford a capacious summer harbor, as a great number of ships may ride in the great channel opposite to and below the city.

"The situation of this metropolis is upon the great post road, and about equidistant from the northern and southern extremity of the Union, and nearly so from the Atlantic and Pittsburgh, upon the best navigation, and in the midst of a commercial territory, probably the richest, and commanding the most extensive internal resources of any in America, if we except New York. It has therefore many advantages to recommend it as an eligible place for the permanent seat of the general government.

"The plan of the city appears to contain some important improvements upon that of the best planned cities of the world, combining, in a remarkable degree, convenience, regularity, elegance of prospect and a free circulation of air. The positions of the different public edifices and for the several squares and areas of different shapes as they are laid down, were first determined on the most advantageous ground, commanding the most extensive prospects, and from their situation susceptible of such improvements as either use or ornament may hereafter require."

"On Pleasant Eminence"
"The Capitol is situated on a pleasant eminence commanding a view of every part of the city and a considerable portion of the country around. The President's house stands on rising ground, possesses a water prospect, together with a view of the Capitol and the most material parts of the city. Lines or avenues of direct communication have been devised to connect the most distant and important objects. These transverse avenues, or diagonal streets, are laid out on the most advantageous ground for prospect and convenience, and are calculated not only to produce a variety of prospects, but greatly to facilitate the communication throughout the city.

"The city contained in 1800 3,210 inhabitants; in 1803, 4.553, of whom 910 were people of color; in 1810 8,208, of whom 5,904 were white and 2,304 black. It had in 1803 880 houses, about one half of brick and stone, and the rest of wood. These buildings are in five separate divisions or villages, one near the Capitol, one near the navy yard, one at Greenleaf's point, one near the President's house, and one near Georgetown. The last is the smallest, and that at Greenleaf's point it the most solitary.

"There are four places for public worship - one for Presbyterians, one for Roman Catholics, one for Baptists, and one for Episcopalians. During the sessions of Congress the chaplains are permitted to preach in the representatives' room. The President's house is 170 by 85 feet, two stories high. It is built of free white stone; the roof is covered with slate.

"The hotel stands at the corner of 7th and 8th streets, extending 60 feet on the first, 120 on the other. The building is of brick, the basement is of cut white stone 10 feet high, half of which is under ground. It is three stories high; the first and second are 14 feet high, the third is 11. The gaol is 100 by 26, two stories high; the first 10, the second 8 feet high. In the city are three market houses. At the navy yard are three large brick buildings for the reception of naval stores. Barracks are also erected for the Marines, having a front of 300 feet. The public offices occupy two buildings, each about 450 feet from the President's house, having a front 120 feet, two stories."

Alexandria on Philadelphia Plan
Alexandria, formerly Belhaven, at the southern corner of the District, is stated to have an elevated and pleasant situation.

"It is built on the plan of Philadelphia. Many of the houses are handsome. Its public buildings are a Presbyterian church, one also for the Episcopalians, an academy, court house, gaol, and bank. It contained in 1800 5,971 inhabitants, and in 1810, 7,227. Its exports, in 1810, amounted to $930,634, and the tonnage, in 1807, to 11,320 tons.

"Georgetown, on the Maryland side, is separated by Rock creek from the city of Washington and lies four miles from the Capitol and eight from Alexandria. It is built on a number of small hills and has a pleasant situation. It has four churches, the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists each having one. The other public buildings are the Catholic college, an academy, court house, and gaol. Population, 1810: 4,948. The exports, in 1810, amounted to $107,439; the tonnage, in 1807, to 2,110 tons.

"The Potomac intersects this district and is navigable, close to the bank, for large ships half a mile above Greenleaf's Point, and in the channel some distance further. The Eastern branch, as it is called, rises in Maryland and flows about twenty miles. It is chiefly a bay of the Potomac, and is navigable four miles along the bank for the largest ships. Rock creek runs southerly about sixteen miles. Tiber, or Goose, creek is a small stream running through the city. Its source is 236 feet above the level of the Potomac; it can be made the reservoir of aqueducts for any part of the city.

"A canal connecting Tiber creek with the Eastern Branch has been partially executed; the tide flows into it five or six inches deep. Companies have been incorporated by Congress for the purpose of opening a canal to connect the Potomac river with the Eastern branch through a part of the city of Washington. Also for erecting a bridge over the Potomac within this district, also for making a turnpike from Mason's causeway to Alexandria.

"A road from this district to New Orleans, through the Indian territories, is making the distance estimated at about 1,000 miles."