Matthew B. Gilmore
Washington DC is known around the world as Pierre L’Enfant’s great “Planned City.” But that design only went to Florida Avenue. For the rest of DC there was no plan.
Old ‘County of Washington’ beyond Florida Avenue remained rural farmland until the Civil War. Development there boomed quickly after the war, largely unregulated. Not until 1888 were the first rudimentary planning requirements adopted for upper DC. The real plan came five years later, in 1893, when DC’s Permanent System of Highways reestablished a consistent street pattern reflecting L’Enfant.
Thus in upper DC, 1870s and 1880s neighborhoods followed developers’ whimsy. Later portions followed a plan.
Which plan? The Permanent System of Highways. Practically unknown to the public today, it formed the ultimate design for two-thirds of DC . . . a “Second L’Enfant Plan.” Yet its development remains unexplored.
The map of the Permanent System (as periodically amended) was the official government (base)map of the District from 1908 to 1968 and continued in use until the 1980s.
Today, almost everywhere one goes in DC beyond downtown and Georgetown, the streets are from the Permanent System of Highways.
For more information please visit Washington Map Society at www.WashMapSociety.org.
Speaker Matthew B. Gilmore has been engaged in DC history for numerous years and is founder/editor of H-DC (http://networks.h-net.org/h-dc ). Known for his books “Historic Photos of Washington DC” (2007, with Andrew Brodie Smith) plus “Foggy Bottom and the West End” (2011, with Joshua Olsen,) his interest in the Permanent System of Highways was sparked by research for his 2002 article, “A Catalog of Suburban Subdivisions of the District of Columbia, 1854-1902,” and working with Michael Harrison, who wrote “The Evil of the Misfit Subdivisions – Creating the Permanent System of Highways in the District of Columbia”. He blogs at https://matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com and writes the “What Once Was” column in The Intowner http://www.intowner.com
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