Matthew B. Gilmore
Recent articles in reference to planning at Walter Reed touch on the District’s “Highway Plan”. Properly called the “Permanent System of Highways for the District of Columbia”, the history leading to its creation was documented in Michael R. Harrison, “The ‘Evil of the Misfit Subdivisions’: Creating the Permanent System of Highways of the District of Columbia,” 26-55, in the Spring/Summer 2002, 14 (1) issue of Washington History.
Congress passed the legislation in 1893 – Mar. 2, 1893, 27 Stat. 532, ch. 197. Amending the plan required congressional legislation until the responsibility was passed the the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC).
The idea was to provide an orderly and regular framework for the expansion of development what had been “Washington County”–replacing the hop-scotch/higgledy-piggledy subdivisions laid out since the 1860s. (see Matthew B. Gilmore and Michael R. Harrison, “A Catalog of Suburban Subdivisions of the District of Columbia, 1854-1902,” 26-55 in the Fall/Winter 2002-2003, 14 (2) issue of Washington History Creating the plan was rather long and torturous and once legal challenges were met the plan (begun in 1893) was completed in 1908. The old subdivisions were grandfathered in.
At the time the road network for Washington County (1893-1908) was planned “highway” was the term of art, and is unconnected to later highway/freeway planning.
Official maps issued by the District of Columbia used the (1968) permanent system of highways basemap up until the 1980s. It was also the basemap used in the Senate Park Commission (McMillan Commission) maps in 1901. Maintenance of the plan lay with the National Capital Planning Commission until the introduction of Home Rule. Numerous amendments were made (and continue to be made–the Surveyor of the District of Columbia routinely takes abandonments of highway plan right of way through the process with the Council and NCPC).
Few of these maps have piqued the interest of those digitizing records but you can see an example click here: 1933 Permanent System map
Here’s a snippet around Walter Reed:
Note: The Baist real estate atlases also show the highway plan (as dashed lines.)
There is, however, no existing up-to-date map of the current Permanent System of Highways updated with abandonments since 1968.
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