Browsing articles tagged with "Pierre Charles L'Enfant Archives - Historic Fort Lesley J. McNair"


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



Brick, Brick, Wall and a Few Buildings Too! (Part 1)

By John Michael  //  Washington Arsenal  //  No Comments

The Capital City Needs A New Federal Penitentiary – Part 1

charles bulfinchWhen President John Quincy Adams tapped Charles Bulfinch, the architect from Boston, to design the first federal penitentiary on the northern acres of Greenleaf Point, who knew the role this structure would later play in the history of the United States – specifically in regard to the Lincoln assassination.   Bulfinch, as the 3rd Architect of the Capitol, had redesigned that building, incorporating a new central dome to it. He succeeded Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was the 2nd Architect of the Capitol and Stephen Hallet (a.k.a. Étienne Sulpice Hallet) who was Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant‘s draftsman and the 1st Architect of the Capitol.

It Began in Boston

Bulfinch made his name and reputation in New England, specifically in Massachusetts  and around Boston -designing several buildings. Among these facts were why in 1817 he was named as the Architect of the Capital. In addition to the work done on the Capitol, he designed a prison in Alexandria, Va. (1826) and also designed the Federal Penitentiary (1827-28), Washington DC.

An In-depth Penitentiary Study

To get a better perspective about a penitentiary design,  Bulfinch sought out a variety of prisons both existing  or those being built in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.  Armed with that knowledge, he then prepared a report to the President that highlighted his actions and the conclusions and recommendations for the new penitentiary that would be built for the Capital City located at the northern end of Greenleaf Point.

bulfinch penitentiary report

Results  and Recommendations for the Penitentiary

charles bulfinch on penitentiary

Read a copy of the report bulfinch-report-to-congress

A Penitentiary Design

Based on his report and details in it, the new District of Columbia Penitentiary would be a four-story brick building with twenty cells on each floor or a total of one hundred sixty cells surrounded by a perimeter wall.  The front of the penitentiary would face north.  Within the courtyard would be a separate building – that’s where the kitchen, mess hall and the shoe factory would be.

bulfinch penitentiary sketch


penitentiary plan

What the Future Held

The penitentiary completed in 1827 and never filled to capacity and the shoe factory didn’t provide enough income to maintain the facility since the combination of types of prisoners along with the number wasn’t sufficient Yet less than four decades later, it would be the site of what would be the incarceration, trial, and hanging of four of the Lincoln assassination conspirators including Mary Surratt – the first woman hanged by the US  federal government.

washington federal penitentiary



Images of America - Fort Lesley J. McNair

Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair

An  Author Autographed copy of the book is available for purchase.  Buy the Book


Brick, Brick, Wall  – Part 2 –

After that fateful day – 07 JUL 1865  what happened Next?   (COMING SOON)


L’Enfant Has Reservations with Washington


Greenleaf Point

Greenleaf Point

Fort Lesley J McNair owes its origins to Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant who was commissioned by President George Washington to map out the Capital city of Washington DC.  L’Enfant fought in the American Revolutionary War and was very supportive of the efforts.  He was trained in Paris where he developed the skills and honed his talents to design the new Capital City of Washington DC.

In planning the city, he set aside “reservations” where either open space (parks, circles, etc.) or designated federal buildings would be placed.  For instance reservation #01 was where the Capitol would be placed.  The executive mansion would be at reservation #02 and so on.

Of import was reservation #05.  In fact it was designated “military reservation #05”  located at the southern most tip of the land included in the new Capital City.  Some 28 acres set aside to defend the city from enemy attack by water.  At the point where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers join, there was Turkey Buzzard Point. It was at that tip of land, an earthworks was built and an artillery piece placed in defense of Washington DC.   It was later renamed Greenleaf Point, when James Greenleaf a land speculator bought up most of the parcels in the southwest part of the new city.

He began to build houses in concert with the commissioners.  However, unfortunate for him, most of the development and expansion within the new Capital City was happening in the northwest.  The result was that few people were interested in locating in the southwest.


The book, Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair contains over two hundred historical photographs, images and illustrations which chronicle the two hundred plus years of history among the acres of this US Army Post.

The book “Images of America – Fort Lesley J McNair”  is “a walk down memory lane” as one reader called it after he turned the last page.  Go beyond

Images of America - Fort Lesley J. McNair

Images of America – Fort Lesley J. McNair

the website and read more of the history with your own copy – BUY THE BOOK offers the opportunity to get either a personalized & autographed copy from the author or purchase the book from one of the major resellers.


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