Saturday, February 9, 2008


SW3 Boundary Marker for the District of Columbia

In 1791, our nation was still young, but not so young that there wasn't some controversy about where the capital city for our new country should lie. Prior to that year, eight cities had hosted the U.S. Congress and two--New York (1785-1790) and Philadelphia (1790-1795)--served as the official capitals of the United States. During Philadelphia's tenure, debate continued to arise regarding a permanent location. It was understood that whichever state ended up with the national capital would be disproportionately powerful.

SW3 Boundary Stone Plaque placed by the Daughter's of the American Revolution

President Washington issued a proclamation in 1791 giving the boundaries for a capital city--or federal district--that would not be part of any one state. By June of that year, all of the landowners had signed agreements and a 10 mile diamond (100 square miles) had been designated out of land from Virginia in the west and Maryland in the north, south, and east.

In a quiet corner of a church parking lot is this unassuming object--
the SW3 Boundary Marker for the original border of the District of Columbia.

These photos show the SW3 boundary marker, which lies in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Alexandria. This area and all of the portion that was in Virginia was retroceded back to the Commonwealth in 1847 leaving Washington, D.C., 61 square miles--it's current area. Today, many of the boundary markers are in decay or have been destroyed, but a map on the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution website shows where they all are and I'm going to make an effort to photograph as many as possible in the next few months.

If Washington, D.C., was a state, it would be smaller than Rhode Island, but is part of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. In terms of population, more people--588,292--live in its 61.8 square miles than live in the State of Wyoming where 493,782 people live in 97,818 square miles!

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 2/08


Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

Very interesting post, DC. Looking forward to seeing photos of the other markers. Capital and capitol / then and than / there and their/ its and it's... :(

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: Me, too! I think I'll start with the ones in the NE quadrant and work my way around.

Maybe this will help: capital = a city designated as the seat or center of power in a country; geographical location of the national government versus capitol = a building that houses the legislative body of a government.

For example: Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States. In 1793, George Washington laid the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol.

If it's any comfort, I had to look that up 'cause I'm always getting them screwed up. The word pairing I always bugger up is loath/loathe. Ugh.

Lisa Sarsfield said...

Oh, I thought capitol was a USA spelling like colour/color or mum/mom!
Nice sentimental/informative post. I don't know if there was much of a issue deciding on making Wellington the capital of NZ or not...I do know the Aucklanders would like that title though!

D.C. Confidential said...

Lisa: I wish the differences between capitol/capital could be explained away by the nuances between the Queen's English and bastardized American English, but alas.

I think Washington and his cohorts were wise to establish a separate federal district for our capital. There are certainly cities all over the U.S. that would love nothing more than to have the power that comes with being the center of the nation. Sometimes, I think we need to move our capital to the middle of America since we've long been more than just the original thirteen colonies we started with back in the 1700s. I hear Omaha, Nebraska, is nice and it's right at the center of the country!

Bobbie said...

Gosh. So interesting to read. And your tidbit about the population was especially succulent. It will be fun to see other boundary markers.

D.C. Confidential said...

Bobbie: I was going to go out today, but it was in the 20s. Maybe toward the end of the week I'll have more photos of boundary markers.