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Richard Longstreth

Urban plan for the newly created seat of the US Federal government, Washington, DC, designed by Pierre-Charles L’Enfant at the request of George Washington in 1791–2, which was audacious in its size, scope and purpose. Building a new federal city stemmed from the president’s realization that choosing any established center would fuel the fractious relations that existed between the states. Locating the city midway along the Atlantic seaboard was also a political balancing act, but, equally important, the site lay further west than any potential seaport. The site also seemed to afford the easiest access to Ohio River Valley. Washington envisioned a great city, like Paris, that would be the cultural and business, as well as the governmental, center—the prime launching point for settlement of the Trans-Appalachian frontier.

Raised at the French court, where his father was a painter, L’Enfant trained at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris. He left to join the Continental Army in America in ...