Map of the Week Vol. 18 – Topography of the federal city, 1791


click map to enlarge. Source: Library of Congress

Map of the Week is written by David A., a systems librarian and map geek living in NoMa. David previously wrote about a Birdseye view of the National Capital from 1892.

This 1791 topographical map gives a very raw look at the DC landscape before the city had streets. You can see that topography very much defined the original city limits. Boundary Street, today’s Florida Avenue, followed the bottom of the hill that still marks the border between the U St area and Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan.

If you look closely, unmarked buildings appear throughout the city. Another interesting feature is the broad creek running just south of the White House. With the exception of Rock Creek, all of the creeks in the original city limits would be filled in or covered over. Georgetown’s street grid looks very similar to today’s grid. An act of the Maryland Legislature set in motion the building of Georgetown. Surveying was completed in 1752, and by the time of the publishing of this map it had grown into a thriving port of trade.

9 Comment

  • This is too cool! You can see that the road from the Capitol to Georgetown almost exactly plots the path of Pennsylvania Avenue today. The road that forks off Pennsylvania and heads up to modern day Sheridan Circle runs exactly through Dupont and it appears that stretch of Mass Ave. from Dupont to Sheridan is in exactly the same place as well. Looks like Union Station’s tracks run through the old streambed. Too bad there’s no time lapse aerial photos.

    • L’Enfant used the local topography to figure out where the streets should be to maximize views and vistas, but it’s nice to see the link so clear with this topo map.

  • This is great. Florida Ave./Boundary St. finally make sense.

  • it looks like a brain.

  • I do hope you know the creek you speak of is Tiber (Goose) Creek.

  • This map was made in 1990. My understanding is that it was Don Hawkins’s attempt to understand and explain L’Enfant’s decisions/process in drawing up the City of Washington. It is a great map, but for you GeoNerds, it cannot be very well georeferenced.

  • Anyone still wonder why Bloomingdale floods during heavy rains?

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