Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
July 26, 1993
Library of Congress Publishes Study of L'Enfant's Plan of Washington
Frenchman Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original plan for the city of Washington is the subject of a study recently published by the Library of Congress. "A Plan Whol[l]y New": Pierre Charles L'Enfant's Plan of the City of Washington, traces the fascinating history of the plan from its conception by Washington, Jefferson, and L'Enfant in the 18th century to its preservation and digitization by the Library of Congress in 1991. The title of the book is taken from a sentence in L'Enfant's letter to George Washington dated August 19, 1791, in which he reports on the progress of the plan.
The handsome, clothbound, 85-page book is illustrated with 20 black and white reproductions, among which is Jefferson's plan for a small federal city near what was then known as Hamburg, now called Foggy Bottom. A silhouette of L'Enfant prepared by Sarah DeHart about 1785 is embossed on the cover of the book in gold ink. Now preserved in the collections of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State, it is the only image of the city designer taken from life that has survived to the present day.
On March 9, 1791, Pierre Charles L'Enfant arrived in the river port of Georgetown, Maryland, to begin planning a capital city for the two-year-old United States of America. In less than a year he succeeded in preparing a plan for the city that still serves as the framework for the nation's capital.
The original manuscript of L'Enfant's plan was transferred in 1918 from the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, U.S. Army, to the Library of Congress. Today, this cartographic treasure forms the cornerstone of the Library's unrivaled collection of maps and atlases of the city of Washington.
Exactly 200 years after L'Enfant presented his plan for the city to President Washington on August 26, 1791, the Library of Congress commemorated the event with the publication of a full- color facsimile reproduction of the plan. Accompanying the facsimile was a newly created computer-generated (digitized) version of the L'Enfant plan prepared by the United States Geological Survey at the request of the Library of Congress. With the digitized version of the plan, for the first time in many years it is possible to discern all the details that Pierre L'Enfant included on his draft plan, plus some penciled notations added later by Thomas Jefferson. Parts of the plan had become virtually illegible over the years due to the fading and deterioration of the manuscript. In addition, a 19th century effort to preserve the plan by varnishing it had the unfortunate opposite effect of seriously degrading the image.
Reproductions of this digitized version of the L'Enfant plan appear as endpapers in the new volume.
Written by Richard M. Stephenson, Specialist in American Cartographic History, "A Plan Whol[l]y New" was produced as a companion to the facsimiles published in 1991. Mr. Stephenson, now an Affiliate Research Professor at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., retired from the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress in January 1992. Long a student of the mapping of Washington, D.C. in general, and the L'Enfant plan in particular, Mr. Stephenson coordinated the restoration and photography of the plan and the subsequent publication by the Library of the facsimile reproduction and the computer-generated image.
"A Plan Whol[l]y New": Pierre Charles L'Enfant's Plan of the City of Washington is available by mail for $13 from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; cite title and stock number, 030-000- 00247-4, when ordering. It can also be purchased in person from the Library of Congress Sales Shop in the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Telephone orders may be placed by calling (202) 783-3238 to charge copies to VISA, MasterCard, or Choice.
Copies of the digitally enhanced version of the L'Enfant plan, along with color facsimiles of the original manuscript, are still available from the Sales Shop or by mail for $35 (including postage and handling) for each set. Mail orders should be addressed to the Publishing Office, Box J, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540.
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