Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Washington (District of Columbia)
WASHINGTON, a city, and the capital of the United States of America; in the District of Columbia; at the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia, or East Branch, rivers and on the Pennsylvania, the Baltimore and Ohio, the Southern, the Chesapeake and Ohio, and other railroads; 136 miles S. W. of Philadelphia; 226 S. W. of New York; 40 miles S. W. of Baltimore, and 185 miles W. of the Atlantic Ocean. The site of the city is an admirable one, surrounded by a circle of hills and comprising a rolling plain, with here and there irregular eminences which provide beautiful and advantageous positions for the various public buildings. The city was laid out expressly for the National Capital and on a scale indicating that it was expected to grow into a vast metropolis; area 69 square miles; pop. (1890) 230,392; (1900) 278,718; (1910) 331,069; (1920) 437,571.
The main attractions of Washington are its governmental buildings.
As the visitor emerges from the beautiful Union Station his attention is first directed to the United States Capitol, but a few blocks to the south. This massive range of buildings on Capitol Hill, including the Senate Chamber, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, Statuary Hall and the Dome covers nearly four acres. Its cost, including the land, was about $16,000,000 and was seventy-four years in process of construction. The great cast iron dome, weighing 4,500 tons and costing $1,000,000, required eight years in its construction. The bronze statue of Armed Liberty, surmounting the Dome, is 19 feet 6 inches high and cost over $24,000.
To the north, nearest Union Station, is the Senate wing of the Capitol. The Senate Chamber is located in the center of this building. The cast iron ceiling, paneled with stained glass, bears the coat of arms of each State. A gallery surrounding the hall accommodates a thousand persons. Here are located the reporters, diplomatic corps, and Senators' families, private galleries. The Senators' desks are arranged in semi-circular rows, the Democrats sitting on the right and the Republicans on the left of the Vice-President, who presides. The President's room, that of the Vice-President, and the Marble room are opposite the corridor from the Senate Chamber.
Adjoining the new Senate wing by a corridor is the old Senate Chamber, now used by the Supreme Court of the United States. To the south comes the great awe-inspiring Rotunda, 300 feet in circumference and over 280 feet in height, adorned with marvelous life-size paintings and beautiful statuary. Through another corridor, the old Hall of Representatives, now Statuary Hall, presents itself. In this Hall each State may contribute bronze or marble statues of two of her most illustrious soldiers or statesmen.
The south wing of the Capitol, adjoining Statuary Hall, is entirely occupied by the House of Representatives, the luxurious Speaker's room, and many committee rooms. Its general arrangement corresponds quite closely to the Senate Chamber, but is of larger proportions, the galleries accommodating 2,000 people.
To the southeast of the House of Congress, about one block, is the beautiful new office building for Representatives. In a corresponding position, to the northeast of the Senate, and connected with it by a subway, is an office building of like design for Senators.
The best example of exclusive American art in Washington is the Library of Congress, situated just east of the Capitol. Built primarily for Congressmen, this great storehouse of valuable books and works of art is used more freely by the people than any library in the world. Its interior is the most inspiring and marvelous combination of gold, silver, rare marbles and mosaic on such a gigantic scale to be found in America.
The Treasury building, just east of the White House, is in every way the most substantially built government building. It is 450 feet long, 250 feet wide and was completed in 1867, at a cost of $7,000,000. When built it was thought ample for all times, but even to-day it will hardly accommodate one-half of the Treasury employes. From a small beginning in 1776, when the Continental Congress appointed two Joint-Treasurers of the United Colonies, each at a salary the first year of $500, has grown this present wonderful financial organization, the solidity of which sustains our pre-eminence as the greatest world power.
An important adjunct to, and under the direction of, the Treasury, is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The new building, just completed, is the finest workshop in the world. The great care exercised in preventing counterfeiting and theft is a long story in itself. Over $1,000,000 of paper money is turned out every working day from this establishment.
The Patent Office, a very important branch under the Interior Department, is one of the oldest government buildings in Washington. Its Doric architecture gives it a strong, yet simple appearance. Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, when he conducted the duties of State and also Patent Examiner, this very important department has grown to over 1,000 employes and more than 500 patents are granted each week. The Patent Office is the only self-supporting bureau of the Government.
The Pension Office is reputed to be the largest brick building under one roof. A distinctive feature which encircles the building is the terra-cotta frieze over the first story window, portraying a spirited procession of soldiers, infantry, cavalry and artillery. Its interior consists of an immense court broken by two rows of columns which support the great roof. Galleries lead from the court to numerous offices. The Grand Inaugural Ball for years was held in this building where fully 18,000 people have assembled.
The Municipal building, constructed of Vermont white marble at a cost of $2,000,000, is an excellent example of the present-day tendency to produce public buildings of the greatest beauty. It contains the offices of the District Commissioners and all municipal departments except the courts. Washingtonians have no vote, therefore the three Commissioners are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The new City Post Office adjoining Union Station is the most recent addition to Washington's beautiful buildings. Of Woodbury granite, its construction cost totals about $3,000,000. It is the most modern Post Office in the world.
Another distinctive Washington building is the new railway terminal, Union Station. It affords the most fitting and dignified entrance to the National Capital. The terminal improvements and construction of building cost nearly $20,000,000. The railroads from the South enter the station through the twin tunnels running through Capitol Hill.
The Pan-American building is considered by many the most beautiful in America. Its wonderful glass-covered court, 60 feet square, the sunken gardens, beautiful statuary and artistic grounds are the admiration of everyone. The building is conducted by the twenty-one Republics of North, South and Central America for the development of Pan-American commerce and friendship. Its construction cost was $1,000,000, one-fourth being paid by the American Republics and three-fourths by Mr. Andrew Carnegie.
Memorial Continental Hall, erected by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, is an exquisite example of Colonial architecture. The beautiful south portico is unique by reason of the thirteen solid marble columns, a gift from the States forming the original thirteen Colonies. Its beautiful Vermont white marble construction presents a most imposing appearance. The National Societies each year in April hold a convention in this Hall, over 2,000 delegates attending.
The famous Corcoran Gallery of Art was founded and endowed by the late William W. Corcoran in 1869, a gift to the people. Below the elaborately carved cornice runs a frieze bearing the names of eleven famous sculptors and painters. Original marbles, bronzes, rare paintings by the most celebrated artists, and casts and replicas from the finest specimens of antique and modern sculpture, fill the rooms and line the corridors. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the admission is free; at other times 25 cents is charged.
The Lincoln Memorial, in 1921 under construction in Potomac Park, at the axis of the Capitol and Washington Monument, is a stupendous undertaking. Its construction is of Colorado white Yule marble and is to cost $2,000,000. Its height will be 123 feet from the Park level, the length 204 feet and depth 134 feet. The central hall will be 60 feet high, 70 feet long and 60 feet wide and will contain a large statue of the martyred President.
Two conspicuous landmarks seen upon the hills surrounding Washington are the Lee Mansion, at Arlington, Va., on the west, and the Soldiers' Home, to the north.
Arlington, the former home of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was built by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and father of Mrs. Robert E. Lee, in 1802. After General Lee left to join the Confederate Army, the estate was used by the Federal Government for a camp, hospital ground, and later as a National Cemetery. In one grave are 2,111 unknown soldiers who fell in the great civil conflict.
The Fort Myer Reservation, adjoining Arlington Cemetery, contains much of interest.
The Soldiers' Home, a beautiful stretch of rolling country, comprising 512 acres, consists of five dormitories with every modern convenience, a hospital, chapel, library, and various other buildings. Soldiers who have been honorably discharged after twenty years' service, or have become disabled, are eligible to the Home.
The immense granite State, War and Navy building covers four and one-half acres and contains 500 rooms with two miles of marble corridors. It was completed in 1893 at a cost of $11,000,000. A beautiful new building on New York Avenue for the Navy and several others for the War Department are also occupied.
The Department of State guards the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States in its fire-proof vaults. The sword of Washington, a staff belonging to Franklin, the original Great Seal of the United States, and many other relics are on exhibit.
The War Department contains models of the Army uniforms at various periods of the service.
At the several entrances to the Navy Department are numerous cannon and mortars captured in our several wars. The corridors contain many models of battleships and cruisers. At the Navy Yard on the Eastern Branch, a tributary of the Potomac river, is located the Barracks, the home of the famous United States Marine Band.
The origin of the Smithsonian Institution was as strange as it has been beneficial. The donor, an Englishman with the assumed name of Smithson, bequeathed his fortune of over $500,000 “for the establishment of an institution in Washington for the diffusion of knowledge among men.” Congress granted fifty acres in 1846 on which the buildings were to be erected. Under the skillful direction of its first secretary, Joseph Henry, the institution was established on a very wise and solid basis. The new and old National Museums and the Zoölogical Park come under its jurisdiction.
The Zoölogical Park, located in Rock Creek Valley, comprises 167 acres of picturesque country. It contains about 1,400 animals from all parts of the world. It is open until 6 p. m. every day.
The new National Museum, located on the Smithsonian grounds, is one of the leading attractions of the Capital. Its many million specimens of curios, relics, minerals, mounted animals and birds would take years to study carefully.
The greatest business organization of the United States is the Post Office Department. Now more business is transacted each day than was handled in a year a century ago. Since this building was completed in 1899 until 1914, when removed to its new location, the Washington City Post Office occupied the first floor. The advent of the Parcel Post now taxes this immense nine story building to its capacity. The Dead Letter Office at the National Museum offers much of interest.
There were in 1919 14 National banks, with a capital of $7,427,000; an outstanding circulation of $5,715,000; a surplus of $5,368,000; and United States bonds valued at $20,415,000. The total exchanges at the clearing house for the year ending Sept. 30, 1919, amounted to $791,804,000, an increase of $120,858,000 over the preceding year. The assessed property value of real estate in 1919 was $414,610,691, and of personal property $37,092,897. The tax rate was $15 per thousand. The net public debt of the city was $3,823,869. There were enrolled in the public schols 60,284 pupils, with 1,831 teachers. The annual cost of maintaining public schools is about $3,000,000 annually. There were in 1919 638 miles of street, of which 515 are paved. The total miles of sewer were 730. There were in 1914 268 manufacturing establishments owned by individuals and 153 by corporations. The total value of the manufactured product was about $30,000,000.
History.—In 1663, Francis Pope, an Englishman, purchased the original site of Washington from the Indians, and named it Rome. The hill on which the Capitol now stands he called Capitoline Hill, and the Anacostia or East Branch river the Tiber. In 1789-1790, several States made efforts to secure the seat of government. A tract of land, 10 miles square was offered by Maryland and Virginia, and was accepted as a compromise in 1790, with the understanding that Philadelphia should be made the capital till 1800, when it was expected the new city would be ready for occupation. The site was first named the Territory of Columbia, but was afterward changed to the Federal District of Columbia. On March 30, 1791, an act was passed to fix the boundaries of the city and to locate the public squares and buildings. Washington himself determined these points, which were then laid out by Andrew Ellicott. On April 15, 1793, the corner stone of the Capitol was laid. It appears to have been the wish of President Washington that the city should be named the “Federal City,” but the present name was adopted in his honor, Sept. 9, 1791. The city was incorporated May 3, 1802. The English captured it Aug. 24, 1814, and burned the Capitol and other public buildings. In 1871 the municipal government of the city was abolished, Georgetown was consolidated with it and a territorial government established for the District of Columbia. But in 1874 Congress changed the government and placed it under control of three commissioners, abolishing the suffrage. In 1878 the government by commissioners was made permanent in the act of June 11, 1878, termed by the United States Supreme Court, the “Constitution of the United States.” The city of Washington has had no government of its own. During the Civil War Washington was the scene of great military operations. It was fortified by a cordon of 68 massive earthworks or forts shortly after the beginning of the war. These works extended over a perimeter of 14 miles.