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Pierre L'Enfant

Pierre L'Enfant


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Pierre L'Enfant was born in Paris, France, on 2nd August, 1754. He began studying art at the Royal Academy of Painting in 1771 but left in 1776 to join the American Revolutionary Army. Congress rewarded him by appointing him major of engineers in 1783.

L'Enfant settled in New York City in 1784 where he established himself as an architect. When it was decided to build a federal capital at Washington, L'Enfant was hired to design the overall plan of the city. Although L'Enfant's plan was followed he was dismissed in 1792 after being responsible for removing without permission, the house of Daniel Carroll, an important resident in the city. Pierre L'Enfant, who was only paid $3,800 for his work, died in poverty on 14th June, 1825.


Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Pierre Charles L'Enfant was born in Paris, France and studied at the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He arrived in America in April 1777 as part of a unit of French engineers who came to aid the Continental forces during the American Revolution.

After recovering from wounds received at the Siege of Savannah in 1779, he joined General George Washington's staff as a captain. He was with Washington during the winter at Valley Forge.

His architectural career included both temporary and permanent buildings, but not all of his designs were executed. He redesigned New York's City Hall as the location for the US Congress, and George Washington took the presidential oath in that building in April 1789. Plans he created in 1794 to rebuild Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River were too complex and the job was given to another French engineer, Stephen Rochfontaine.

L'Enfant died in poverty in Prince George's County, Maryland in 1825. In recognition of his service to the nation, he was reburied in Arlington National Cemetery in 1909.

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Histories of the National Mall was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media , George Mason University with generous funding from the National Endowment from the Humanities. Content licensed under CC-BY.


A revolutionary man

Pierre-Charles L'Enfant was born in Paris on August 2, 1754. His mother was Marie Charlotte Lullier, the daughter of an official of the French Court. His father was Pierre L'Enfant (Lenfant), a painter for the French Crown whose specialty was landscapes and battle scenes. Pierre-Charles was baptized August 3, 1754, in the Church Royale of the Parish of Saint Hippolytus, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Paris. He had a sister and a brother, but his brother, Pierre Joseph, died in 1758 at the age of six. Pierre-Charles grew up in a privileged home and spent time in the courts of Louis XV (1710–1774 reigned 1715–74) and Louis XVI (1754–1793 reigned 1774–92). In 1771, he became a student at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, where his father was an instructor. Pierre-Charles studied fine art and learned to draw battle scenes, which involved sessions on how to draw fortifications. Included in his studies at the academy were detailed instructions in the art of landscape architecture.

At the age of twenty-two, L'Enfant accepted a lieutenancy in the Continental Army to help America in its fight for independence from Britain. France threw its support behind the American colonies in 1777 when it became evident that the Americans had a real chance of defeating Britain. The French were longtime enemies of Britain and had lost land to the British in North America during the French and Indian War (1754–63). L'Enfant was among the first to enlist, although he had no military training or experience as an army engineer (who built bridges, roads, and earthworks for troop defense). He joined with other commissioned and noncommissioned officers, including engineers, artillerymen, miners, and trained laborers. L'Enfant set out aboard the Amphitrite and arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in April 1777. Almost immediately he changed his first name to Peter Charles, the English version of his original name, and committed his talents to supporting the American cause.

L'Enfant was sent to Boston, Massachusetts, in December 1777. He joined the staff of Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730–1794), newly appointed inspector general of the army. Steuben was training General George Washington's raw recruits and preparing the official military manual of the U.S. Army. L'Enfant drew eight illustrations for Steuben's Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States while stationed at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1778. He also drew a number of landscapes while he was there, including a panoramic view of West Point. It was at Valley Forge that L'Enfant was first introduced to George Washington. Washington requested a pencil portrait of himself after seeing L'Enfant sketch similar pictures for his fellow officers during the long, dreary days at Valley Forge. A talented artist, L'Enfant was able to catch a clear likeness of his subject in his drawings. His service in Pennsylvania earned L'Enfant an appointment as captain in the Army Corps of Engineers on April 3, 1779. With the promotion, L'Enfant was sent south to his next assignment.

In October 1779, L'Enfant was present at the Battle of Savannah, Georgia. He received a serious leg wound while attempting to set fire to the British-built defenses. Thereafter, he relied on a cane to walk. L'Enfant participated in the defense of Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1780, and was captured by the British. He was released in a prisoner exchange in January 1782 and allowed to return to active military duty with the engineers. L'Enfant immediately asked General Washington for a promotion to the rank of major. The commander in chief sent his personal praise, but Congress did not immediately grant a rank increase. L'Enfant's request for a promotion was granted on May 2, 1783. He was commissioned brevet major in the Army Corps of Engineers.


Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born

On this day in history, August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born. L’Enfant was a French born engineer and architect who came to America to fight in the American Revolution. After the Revolution, L’Enfant established an engineering firm and is best known for designing the city of Washington DC.

Pierre L’Enfant’s father was an artist in the court of Louis XV and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. L’Enfant studied art under his father, but also studied military engineering. In 1777, L’Enfant was recruited to fight in the American Revolution. This was a common way for young or disenfranchised European soldiers to boost their careers or find a job when they couldn’t find one at home.

L’Enfant became a military engineer in the Continental Army and served under fellow French Major General, the Marquis de Lafayette, who recruited L’Enfant to paint George Washington’s portrait when they were at Valley Forge. L’Enfant was injured in the Siege of Savannah and later served as Washington’s Captain of Engineers until the end of the war.

After the war, L’Enfant moved to New York City and established an engineering firm. He designed homes, public buildings and other items such as medals and furniture. One of L’Enfant’s most notable projects was redesigning Federal Hall for Congress in New York in the old City Hall building.

When the final location for Washington DC was determined, L’Enfant was given the plum assignment of designing the new federal city. L’Enfant envisioned a city with grand avenues, public parks and grandiose buildings. His original plans included a "President’s House" that was five times larger than the White House that was actually built. L’Enfant’s plans included a long avenue from the "Congress House" to the Potomac, which later became the National Mall. The plans called for streets in a grid pattern, intersected by wide avenues at diagonal angles named after the states.

L’Enfant’s basic plans were adopted, but he was eventually forced out of the position due to his unwillingness to bend or negotiate with the commissioners in charge of building the town. Commissioners made changes to L’Enfant’s original plans and largely left them behind. The disgrace of losing this position affected L’Enfant’s finances for the rest of his life. He did manage to work on several more public projects, including Fort Washington on the Potomac and the cities of Perrysburg, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. He also taught engineering for a time at the United States Military Academy. In spite of this, L’Enfant died a poor man, leaving only about $45 worth of belongings when he passed away.

In 1901, the McMillan Commission was formed to revive Washington DC. The commission dug up the old L’Enfant designs for the city and used them as a basis to revamp the city’s parks and public spaces. The result was the creation of the National Mall, the reclaiming of land along the Potomac where the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials now stand and long term plans for future development based on L’Enfant’s original ideas, that now include the Smithsonian buildings along the mall and the congressional office buildings around the US Capitol. L’Enfant was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1909, overlooking the city he helped design.

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent."
John Jay


From Pierre L’Enfant

Pierre L’Enfant’s letter of 21 Nov. to GW is the first in a series of letters that document the controversy sparked by L’Enfant’s demolition of a house in the Federal City being constructed by Daniel Carroll of Duddington. L’Enfant ordered the house demolished before obtaining the approval of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, thus openly challenging their authority over the affairs of the Federal City. His continuing insubordination broadened a limited disagreement into a general dispute over authority for the development of the Federal City that ended only in late February 1792 with L’Enfant’s dismissal.

The documentary record of this dispute is unusually rich. GW’s correspondence alone includes over forty letters dating from November 1791 to February 1792. Various letters to or from Tobias Lear can also be included, as well as six letters to GW that have not been found, the contents of which can be inferred from related documents. Several of the letters to GW contained numerous or lengthy enclosures.1

GW was drawn inevitably into the controversy, having personally selected L’Enfant and each of the three commissioners. He had sent L’Enfant to lay out the Federal City before the appointment of the commissioners, discussed the design of the city and the location of the principal federal buildings with the engineer, and approved L’Enfant’s ideas without involving the commissioners in the process. L’Enfant’s position was that his authority flowed directly from the president. His relationship with the commissioners during the spring and summer of 1791 undoubtedly encouraged him in this conviction. The commissioners took no part in the formulation of L’Enfant’s plan for the Federal City their first instruction to him seems to have been contained in their letter of 9 Sept. 1791, in which they directed him to have 10,000 copies of his plan struck off in Philadelphia. By the time he received this letter, however, he had probably already acted on similar instructions from GW or Thomas Jefferson to have the plan engraved.2

In early October L’Enfant had conferred privately with GW at Mount Vernon GW informed him that he should take his instructions from the commissioners in the future.3 But at the first sale of city lots, on 17–19 Oct., L’Enfant refused to allow them to display his plan of the Federal City, and afterward he declined to fix with the commissioners a price for his services.4 GW learned of this insubordination in a letter from David Stuart of 29 Oct., and from L’Enfant’s own report on the sale, which he sent to Tobias Lear on 19 Oct., writing: “The advantageous price obtained for a number of lots” was “owing to the care I took to prevent the exhibition of the general plan at the spot where the sale is made.” L’Enfant claimed that if the potential purchasers had seen the general plan, their interest in better lots in other parts of the city would have depressed prices, adding that he hoped Lear would make this clear to the president.5 GW responded to this news by “engrafting sentiments of admonition” on Lear’s reply of 6 Nov. to L’Enfant. Neither that letter nor L’Enfant’s reply to Lear of 10 Nov. has been found.6 L’Enfant’s letter to GW of 21 Nov. 1791, which follows, informing the president that he had ordered the demolition of Carroll of Duddington’s house without consulting the commissioners thus came as unwelcome news after several unsuccessful efforts to persuade the engineer to accept the commissioners as his superiors.

L’Enfant’s antagonist in the first stage of the controversy, Daniel Carroll of Duddington (1764–1849), was the nephew of commissioner Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek.7 Daniel Carroll of Duddington owned more land within the boundaries of the Federal City than did any of the other original proprietors. His property was divided into three contiguous parcels. Duddington Manor, which consisted of 497 acres, extended from Buzzard’s Point, at the mouth of St. James Creek, up the Eastern Branch to present Fourth Street, SE, northward to about D Street, SW-SE. The town lots of Carrollsburgh had been divided from the southern portion of this tract. A second parcel, New Troy, consisting of 500 acres, extended northward from Duddington Manor with its eastern boundary near present Fourth Street, SE-NE, and its western boundary near present First Street, SW-NW. The site on Jenkins Hill selected by L’Enfant for the Capitol was in the southern portion of this tract. A third parcel, Duddington’s Pasture, consisting of 431 acres, extended westward from the first two to the Potomac at the mouth of Goose Creek. Its northern boundary ran through the present Mall, and its southern boundary curved inland from the river at about Fifteenth and C Streets, SW, to First and L Streets, SW, and from there southward along St. James Creek to the Eastern Branch. This parcel entirely embraced the plantation of Notley Young, which had once been a part of it, and which was sometimes still referred to as a part of Duddington’s Pasture.8

Carroll of Duddington had begun construction of his house on Jenkins Hill before the announcement of the location of the federal district, and the site he selected was near the one L’Enfant would select for the Capitol. The stone foundations of the house, 56 by 48 feet, were already in place when L’Enfant made his first examination of the area in early 1791. At L’Enfant’s suggestion Carroll agreed to suspend construction until the design of the city was completed. Work was resumed that summer, however, and when Andrew Ellicott and his men ran the line of New Jersey Avenue southeast of the Capitol site in August 1791, they found that the recently completed wall of the house extended about six feet into one of the projected crossing streets. When he discussed the matter with Carroll of Duddington, Ellicott assured him that L’Enfant had said the width of the street could be reduced from 110 to 100 feet to accommodate the house.

The matter came to a head in the third week of November, when L’Enfant wrote to Carroll of Duddington to inform him that the house encroached on public property and had to be demolished. No copy of this letter, which probably was written on or shortly before 18 Nov., or of Carroll’s reply (which might have been oral), has been found. After David Stuart and Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek adjourned their commissioners’ meeting of 18 Nov., L’Enfant approached Stuart and informed him privately of the substance of his letter to Carroll of Duddington. Stuart described this conversation to Commissioner Carroll, who reported subsequently to James Madison that Stuart had told L’Enfant that “If Mr Carroll did not agree, the Docr. [Stuart] desird of the Major that the Letters between Mr Carroll & him shou’d be layd before the Commsrs. at their next meeting which was to be on the friday following. Mr. Stuart remain’d under a confidence that this wou’d be done.”9

L’Enfant apparently received Daniel Carroll of Duddington’s reply on 19 or 20 November. According to Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek, “Mr Carroll for answer informd him that whenever it shoud be deemd an obstruction in consequence of buildings in that part of the City, it shou’d be taken down.”10 In reply L’Enfant apparently informed Carroll of Duddington orally that he intended to order the demolition of the house, and Carroll of Duddington responded by appealing directly to GW in writing. This letter to GW, dated 21 Nov., has not been found. GW’s reply of 28 Nov., however, provides its date and makes it clear that Carroll of Duddington had agreed to the demolition of the house if it were found to be a public nuisance, although he argued that the house should be permitted to stand until the development of the surrounding neighborhood rendered it an obstruction. GW’s reply also makes it clear that Carroll had not appealed to the commissioners to intervene. His reason for appealing to GW instead of the commissioners is not known, but he probably acted on the advice of his uncle the commissioner.

After writing to GW, Carroll of Duddington left for Annapolis to seek legal assistance to prevent L’Enfant from tearing down the house. As Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek wrote to James Madison, “Mr Carroll apprehending that he [L’Enfant] woud not wait had gone to Annapolis for advice in consequence of which he obtaind an injungtion in Chancery to stop proceeding with a Summons or Subpœna, for the Major to appear at Annapolis in Decr.”11

Subsequent events fully justified Daniel Carroll of Duddington’s haste in seeking legal action. Early on 20 Nov., as the letter below indicates, L’Enfant ordered his assistants Isaac Roberdeau and Benjamin Ellicott to direct their men to begin demolishing the house. By the end of the day, the roof and the highest courses of the brick walls had been removed. The pace of the work suggests that an effort was made to preserve the materials for reuse. When Carroll of Duddington arrived at the scene bearing his injunction from the chancellor of Maryland, the demolition was nearly complete. L’Enfant left the Federal City on 24 Nov. for Richmond and Dumfries to negotiate the purchase of sandstone quarries on Aquia Creek and was absent when the commissioners met on 25 November. They wrote to Roberdeau and Ellicott that day: “We are informed that you have been directed to pull down Mr. Carroll’s house—We are sorry a measure of such magnitude, and such delicacy should have been decided on, without our instructions—We therefore find ourselves under the necessity, of requiring you to desist.”12

None of these events was known to GW in the last week of November. On 28 Nov. GW wrote Carroll of Duddington, seeking to conciliate him by offering the proprietor two alternatives: that the building be demolished and rebuilt in the spring at federal expense and in conformity to the recently adopted building regulations, or that he complete and occupy the house with the understanding that it would be demolished in six years, at which time he would be compensated for the walls in their present state. GW also wrote to L’Enfant the same day, enclosing a copy of his letter of 28 Nov. to Carroll of Duddington and pointing out that “yielding a little” in this case would be “sound policy.” GW did not receive news of the house’s demolition until the arrival of the commissioners’ letter to him of 25 Nov., which came to hand sometime on 30 Nov., before GW wrote to Jefferson that day about L’Enfant, or early the next day.

Upon receiving this unwelcome news, GW consulted with Jefferson, who conferred with Madison on 1 December. Jefferson drafted GW’s reply to the commissioners as well as GW’s letter to L’Enfant. GW’s reply of 2 Dec. to the commissioners followed Jefferson’s draft of 1 Dec., except for minor additions, and enclosed a copy of GW’s letter of 28 Nov. to L’Enfant invoking compromise. GW also enclosed a letter of 2 Dec. to Daniel Carroll of Duddington expressing his regret that L’Enfant’s “zeal” had “carried him too fast” but urging Carroll to consider dropping his case in chancery court. This letter GW left open for the commissioners to read and determine whether its delivery was advisable.

GW added two paragraphs to Jefferson’s draft of the letter to L’Enfant. On 2 Dec. GW informed the engineer that the demolition of Carroll of Duddington’s house laid L’Enfant “open to the Laws,” implying that GW would not attempt to protect him from civil action. While expressing his desire that L’Enfant continue to be employed in the design and construction of the Federal City, GW enjoined him not to touch any property without first obtaining the consent of the owner or an order from the commissioners, to whom L’Enfant was to consider himself entirely subordinate.

L’Enfant received GW’s letter of 28 Nov. on 4 Dec., when he returned to Georgetown, and began drafting a reply the next day, justifying his actions to GW.13 GW handed L’Enfant’s completed letter, apparently dated 7 Dec., to Jefferson, who sent GW on 11 Dec. a detailed response to the various claims L’Enfant had made in defense of his actions. At GW’s request Jefferson prepared a draft of a letter to L’Enfant. GW sent this letter to the engineer on 13 Dec., repeating the injunction that L’Enfant was to consider himself subordinate to the commissioners. Shortly thereafter Jefferson received a letter from the commissioners, dated 10 Dec., indicating that Daniel Carroll of Duddington had, as GW suggested, dropped his suit in chancery court.14 The affair was thus apparently brought to a close, which, as GW wrote the commissioners on 18 Dec., gave him “much pleasure.” GW also generously suggested that they look for an early opportunity to give L’Enfant broad use of his authority, undoubtedly to reassure him of what GW had written on 2 and 13 Dec. to L’Enfant: that the commissioners supported the execution of L’Enfant’s ambitious plans for the Federal City.

GW’s optimism was dashed by the revelation, contained in a letter of 21 Dec. from the commissioners, that a group of proprietors had presented them with a memorial supporting L’Enfant’s actions and opposing the compensation of Carroll of Duddington out of the proceeds of the sale of Federal City land. GW wrote Jefferson on 25 Dec. that “our troubles in the Federal City are not yet at an end.”

The crisis thereafter escalated. L’Enfant was long expected in Philadelphia to make new arrangements for the engraving of his plan. In his annual message to Congress on 25 Oct., GWhad promised to lay a copy of L’Enfant’s plan before Congress by 13 Dec., deciding he could wait no longer for the engineer to arrive with his completed plan, GW transmitted to Congress an earlier version of the plan. When L’Enfant finally arrived in Philadelphia at the end of the month, he made it clear that he would not accept subordination to the commissioners. GW continued to hope that L’Enfant could be persuaded otherwise, but reports from the commissioners of 9 and 10 Jan. 1792 that Roberdeau and Valentine Boraff, another of L’Enfant’s assistants, had refused to obey their direct orders, further revealed the extent of L’Enfant’s insubordination, as did the ambitious plan for financing and carrying out the development of the Federal City that L’Enfant presented to GW on 17 January. GW gave this document to Jefferson, and neither of them responded to it in the six weeks before L’Enfant’s dismissal.


NCPC and the National Capital Regional Planning Council produced the influential Year 2000 Plan, proposing a model for long-term regional growth. M-NCPPC then incorporated and expanded on this recommended model in its own comprehensive plan, titled On Wedges and Corridors. Central Washington is the region's focus and developed corridors separated by wedges of open countryside extend out, linking major development centers.


The Peculiar Frenchman who Designed Washington D.C.

The Statue of Liberty, believe it or not, is not the biggest nor the most impressive architectural contribution France has made to America. For much of Washington DC was in fact designed by a Frenchman.

Born in France in 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant grew up following in the footsteps of his famed painter father who was in the service of King Louis XV.

L’Enfant left his studies at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris, however, to go to America and fight on the rebellious colonials’ side in the Revolutionary War.

In 1777 he enlisted in the Continental Army under General Lafayette as a military engineer. He went on to serve under General Washington himself, forming a close relationship aided by his production of several portraits of the future first president.

After the war, L’Enfant set up a civil engineering firm in New York. He redesigned City Hall for the First Congress of the United States, providing the first example of the renowned Federal Style architecture for the country.

Certificate of Membership in the Society of Cincinnati

Introduced in 1789, the Constitution of the United States provided for the development of a new city that would act as the federal district of the nation. Later named after the first president himself, Washington D.C. was allotted up to 10 square miles. L’Enfant nominated himself to plan the city and George Washington accepted, officially appointing him to the task in 1791.

L’Enfant had grandiose ideas, taking inspiration from the architecture of his native France, wanting to reflect such palaces as the one at Versailles. In between the Potomac River and its Eastern Branch (today the Anacostia River), he developed a plan for the city that would compliment the contours of the land. L’Enfant’s biographer, Scott Berg, claims that, “The entire city was built around the idea that every citizen was equally important,” explaining why Congress was placed on the highest point overlooking the Potomac, traditionally an ideal location for the executive palace. In his Plan of the City […] L’Enfant described this location as “a pedestal awaiting a monument.”

L’Enfant’s Plan of Washington Superimposed on the Rectangular System from which he worked

The President’s House, or Executive Palace (today the White House), was meant to be five times its actual size. Many of L’Enfant’s plans didn’t come to fruition at the time, however, including his development of the federal city. Urged by Thomas Jefferson, L’Enfant ended up resigning his post.

Plan of the City of Washington, March 1792. Engraving on paper, Library of Congress record

Throughout the project, the temperamental French architect clashed regularly with city commissioners worried about the budget, local wealthy landowners whose residencies were demolished for the development of the city, and real estate firms looking to buy land which would impede L’Enfant’s vision.

The Frenchman gained a reputation for an inability to work well with others. He also left the project to develop Paterson, New Jersey as well as the construction of Fort Washington, being replaced by less stubborn visionaries. This pattern would continue throughout the rest of his life.

The White House ruins after the conflagration of August 24, 1814. Watercolor by George Munger, displayed at the White House

Washington D.C. remained incomplete 110 years after L’Enfant’s resignation. In 1901 the McMillan Commission was formed by the Senate to complete the city, whose development continued based on the original and disputed plans of L’Enfant.

The Commission saw to the completion of L’Enfants dream of the National Mall: an open-air space designed to be accessible, emphasizing the country’s democratic and egalitarian values. They were unable to, however, realize his plan for a waterfall on Capitol Hill.

Tomb of L’Enfant at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Tim Evanson CC BY-SA 2.0

Peter L’Enfant, having anglicized his name in honor of his adoptive country, died in poverty in 1825. Originally buried at Green Hill Farm in Maryland, his remains were exhumed in 1909 and relocated to the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. His final resting place overlooks the Potomac River and the United States capital that he designed.


Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born

On this day in history, August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born. L’Enfant was a French born engineer and architect who came to America to fight in the American Revolution. After the Revolution, L’Enfant established an engineering firm and is best known for designing the city of Washington DC.

Pierre L’Enfant’s father was an artist in the court of Louis XV and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. L’Enfant studied art under his father, but also studied military engineering. In 1777, L’Enfant was recruited to fight in the American Revolution. This was a common way for young or disenfranchised European soldiers to boost their careers or find a job when they couldn’t find one at home.

L’Enfant became a military engineer in the Continental Army and served under fellow French Major General, the Marquis de Lafayette, who recruited L’Enfant to paint George Washington’s portrait when they were at Valley Forge. L’Enfant was injured in the Siege of Savannah and later served as Washington’s Captain of Engineers until the end of the war.

After the war, L’Enfant moved to New York City and established an engineering firm. He designed homes, public buildings and other items such as medals and furniture. One of L’Enfant’s most notable projects was redesigning Federal Hall for Congress in New York in the old City Hall building.

When the final location for Washington DC was determined, L’Enfant was given the plum assignment of designing the new federal city. L’Enfant envisioned a city with grand avenues, public parks and grandiose buildings. His original plans included a "President’s House" that was five times larger than the White House that was actually built. L’Enfant’s plans included a long avenue from the "Congress House" to the Potomac, which later became the National Mall. The plans called for streets in a grid pattern, intersected by wide avenues at diagonal angles named after the states.

L’Enfant’s basic plans were adopted, but he was eventually forced out of the position due to his unwillingness to bend or negotiate with the commissioners in charge of building the town. Commissioners made changes to L’Enfant’s original plans and largely left them behind. The disgrace of losing this position affected L’Enfant’s finances for the rest of his life. He did manage to work on several more public projects, including Fort Washington on the Potomac and the cities of Perrysburg, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. He also taught engineering for a time at the United States Military Academy. In spite of this, L’Enfant died a poor man, leaving only about $45 worth of belongings when he passed away.

In 1901, the McMillan Commission was formed to revive Washington DC. The commission dug up the old L’Enfant designs for the city and used them as a basis to revamp the city’s parks and public spaces. The result was the creation of the National Mall, the reclaiming of land along the Potomac where the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials now stand and long term plans for future development based on L’Enfant’s original ideas, that now include the Smithsonian buildings along the mall and the congressional office buildings around the US Capitol. L’Enfant was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1909, overlooking the city he helped design.

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"Man is not the enemy of man but through the medium of a false system of government."


On This Day in History -August 2, 1754

On this day in history, August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L'Enfant is born. L'Enfant was a French born engineer and architect who came to America to fight in the American Revolution.  After the Revolution, L'Enfant established an engineering firm and is best known for designing the city of Washington DC.

Pierre L'Enfant's father was an artist in the court of Louis XV and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. L'Enfant studied art under his father, but also studied military engineering. In 1777, L'Enfant was recruited to fight in the American Revolution. This was a common way for young or disenfranchised European soldiers to boost their careers or find a job when they couldn't find one at home.

L'Enfant became a military engineer in the Continental Army and served under fellow French Major General, the Marquis de Lafayette, who recruited L'Enfant to paint George Washington's portrait when they were at Valley Forge. L'Enfant was injured in the Siege of Savannah and later served as Washington's Captain of Engineers until the end of the war.

After the war, L'Enfant moved to New York City and established an engineering firm. He designed homes, public buildings and other items such as medals and furniture. One of L'Enfant's most notable projects was redesigning Federal Hall for Congress in New York in the old City Hall building.

When the final location for Washington DC was determined, L'Enfant was given the plum assignment of designing the new federal city. L'Enfant envisioned a city with grand avenues, public parks and grandiose buildings. His original plans included a "President's House" that was five times larger than the White House that was actually built. L'Enfant's plans included a long avenue from the "Congress House" to the Potomac, which later became the National Mall. The plans called for streets in a grid pattern, intersected by wide avenues at diagonal angles named after the states.

L'Enfant's basic plans were adopted, but he was eventually forced out of the position due to his unwillingness to bend or negotiate with the commissioners in charge of building the town. Commissioners made changes to L'Enfant's original plans and largely left them behind. The disgrace of losing this position affected L'Enfant's finances for the rest of his life. He did manage to work on several more public projects, including Fort Washington on the Potomac and the cities of Perrysburg, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. He also taught engineering for a time at the United States Military Academy. In spite of this, L'Enfant died a poor man, leaving only about $45 worth of belongings when he passed away.

In 1901, the McMillan Commission was formed to revive Washington DC. The commission dug up the old L'Enfant designs for the city and used them as a basis to revamp the city's parks and public spaces. The result was the creation of the National Mall, the reclaiming of land along the Potomac where the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials now stand and long term plans for future development based on L'Enfant's original ideas, that now include the Smithsonian buildings along the mall and the congressional office buildings around the US Capitol. L'Enfant was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1909, overlooking the city he helped design.


The dream of a National Cathedral is as old as the nation itself, a "great church for national purposes."

Where History Comes Alive

George Washington and Maj. Pierre L’Enfant cast the original vision for a unifying “great church for national purposes” in the early days of the republic, though it was another century before the first stones were set. As a house of prayer for all people, the Cathedral’s walls are strong enough to contain the emotions of the country at times of great joy and great sorrow.


Watch the video: Pierre Cosso - Emmene-moi 1987 (May 2022).