Browsing articles tagged with "Benjamin Banneker Archives - Historic Fort Lesley J. McNair"
Oct
13

THE CAPITAL GETS STONED – LITERALLY!

Boundary Stones – There were Forty of Them

Few People realize that surrounding Washington DC are boundary stones that mark the perimeter of the Capital City. The first stone was placed in Alexandria, Virginia at Jones Point Lighthouse in the Potomac River.


The Banneker and Ellicott Team

The boundaries of the new Capital City were marked by forty (40) boundary stones placed by Major Andrew Ellicott, his two brothers Joseph and Benjamin Ellicott among others, one of those being Benjamin Banneker.  Banneker, who was a mathematician and astronomer, placed the first stone at what is Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

 

boundary stones

 

Back in 1791 and 1792, Andrew Ellicott and friends went around the 10-mile square of the planned City of Washington and placed a boundary stone every mile of the perimeter.  The stones had four sides – facing inward towards DC (which read “Jurisdiction of the United States” and a mile number, facing outward (which showed the name of the bordering state, either Maryland or Virginia), and the other sides showed the year the stone was placed and the compass variance at that point.

Interestingly, the stones are the oldest federal monuments in the country, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Many of the forty stones remain in their original places, including the ones that now mark the boundary of Arlington County, Virginia (once known as Alexandria County, Virginia).



With this perimeter in place, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant began to lay out the new Capital City of Washington, DC with a concentration on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.   His design was based upon his knowledge of European cities such as Paris where he studied before coming to the aid of the thirteen colonies during the American Revolutionary War.  He was George Washington’s engineer during that conflict. He drew a map defining the city and the federal reservations – one of which,  Reservation #05 initially of 28 acres would evolve into Fort Lesley J. McNair (after being known as Washington Arsenal, Washington Barracks, Army War College [The Army War College relocated to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania after WW II] and Fort Humphreys)

 


washington defenses 1798


After all the name changes the peninsula of acres has had since 1791 a name was finally settled upon, It would be after WW II, to honor the commander of the ground forces in Europe,  LTG Lesley J McNair that the acres would get a name that has lasted until present day.  It’s where the National Defense University with the iconic Roosevelt Hall designed by McKim, Mead and White the architects of the era, the Military District of Washington and The US Army’s Center of Military History are currently headquartered.  (The US Army Band – “Pershing’s Own” and Alpha Company of The 3d Infantry – “The Old Guard”  also once was stationed here)


The District of Columbia Loses Virginia

When the new Capital City was first proposed, both the states of Maryland and Virginia contributed land for a total of 100 square miles.  In 1846, the area of 31 square miles (80 km2) which was ceded by Virginia was returned, leaving 69 square miles (179 km2) of territory originally ceded by Maryland as the current area of the District in its entirety.  The retrocession was due to an issue that Virginia had with the use of its contribution.

 

boundary stone perimeter of Washington DC

The original contributions of Maryland (yellow) and Virginia (red) to the District of Columbia in the 1790s

 


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