Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Munroe, 14 March 1803

From Thomas Munroe

Washington 14th. March 1803


I recd., on the 10th Instant, the Letter which you did me the honor to write from Colo Wrens on the 7th—We are proceeding with diligence in our operations on Pennsylvania Avenue according to your directions. It seems to be a very general opinion here that without the trees are boxed, or otherwise protected from the horses and cattle a great many, if not all of them will be bark’d and destroyed—several instances have been pointed out to me where they were planted last year, and all destroyed—A man near the Avenue says he had twenty or thirty destroyed by a neighbours horse in one night—I should not myself suppose that we should lose more in that way than we could easily replace—Do you, Sir, think that a coat of white-wash, which I am told they give to the young trees in the English Deer parks would have any good effect, or be adviseable as a protection against cattle? A person who thinks boxing absolutely necessary says each tree will cost One dollar, when compleated, that is, the tree itself, planting, boxing, painting the box, and doing every thing else relating to it.—

The Stakes to tie the trees to, which it is said will probably cost nearly as much as the trees, wou’d as is said, be unnecessary, if boxes were used, but the expense of boxing would I imagine be at least double.—

Dr Thornton, Mr King and myself have conversed on the manner of laying off the lines and planting the trees—The threekey modes illustrated by the enclosed sections were suggested—I mentioned the plan No. 3 as the one which I believed you had designed, and would, I thought, adopt, but as no inconvenience would arise from the delay of submitting the other two plans to you I got Mr King to make the sketch—The row on each side the footways nearest the Houses1 which we are proceeding in will at all events be right and conformable to either plan—I shall get the trees from Mount Vernon, and Genl Masons Island & I expect from the samples I have seen, they will be of a good size, price twelve & a half Cents each. Gen Mason is one of those who think they will not do without boxes.

I have just recd the enclosed letter from the Committee Appointed at a meeting of the Contributors to the Theatre contemplated to be built here, They are very anxious, on Acct. of the building season having arrived, to receive an answer so soon as the convenience of the President and the important subjects of his consideration will admit—The spot solicited is that coloured yellow in the space called “Bank square” in the sketch herewith sent.—Perhaps part of the public ground on the south side of the Avenue nearly opposite would suit as well, or better as a grant of the site asked for may be objectionable2 on the ground of its having been generally supposed to be designed3 for another purpose.—I have taken the liberty of forwarding herewith a plan of the City as it is possible you might not have one at Monticello.

I Have the Honor to be with perfect respect & Consideration Sir, Yr mo Ob Servt

Thomas Munroe

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Mch. and so recorded in SJL. Dft (DNA: RG 42, LRDLS). Enclosures: (1) Nicholas King to Munroe, Surveyor’s Office, 12 Mch. 1803, enclosing four section drawings of Pennsylvania Avenue for the president, so that “his decision may be obtained on the distances to be observed in setting out the lines of trees between the Presidents House & Capitol”; section No. 1 shows the avenue in its current state, without trees, labeling the present gravel road, six-foot wide stone pavements, and ditches; section No. 2 shows the landscape plan considered “when Dr. Thornton was with us,” which divides the avenue into two 33-foot carriage ways bisected with a 30-foot gravel carriage and horse way down the center; two double rows of trees separate the center way from the carriage ways, while a single row of trees separates the carriage ways from 13-foot brick pavements on each side of the avenue; King’s objections to this plan include both the number of trees and the number of carriage ways, “none of them wide enough to permit a great intercourse—and allow a facility of turning”; section No. 3 includes a single, 80-foot carriage way with a 10-foot gravel foot way on either side flanked by double rows of trees 12 feet apart; in this plan, King believes that the width of the carriage way is more proportional to the avenue and that the two rows of trees on each side “will give a greater strength of coloring, and afford more shade”; the gravel foot way would be used by pedestrians passing a considerable distance along the avenue, although King adds that “the absolute necessity of such a walk may be doubted”; section No. 4 is similar to section No. 2, except that the two carriage ways have been widened to 47 feet and the central way narrowed into a 15-foot gravel horse way shaded by two single rows of trees planted 18 feet apart; King notes that this removes the great objection to section No. 2, namely the narrowness of the carriage ways, although planting trees at present “would injure the existing road, and make it too narrow for Carriages to turn in”; King has commenced running lines on each side of Pennsylvania Avenue, nearest the houses, so “that the work may be progressing until the Presidents determination on the most proper distances for the interior rows is known” (RC in DLC; addressed: “Thos. Munroe Esq. Superintendent of the City of Washington”; note by TJ in margin to the right of section No. 2: “adopted. but leaving out the 2 middle rows of trees”). (2) Daniel Carroll and others to Munroe, Washington, 14 Mch. 1803, stating that at a 12 Mch. meeting to raise a subscription for erecting a theater in Washington, a committee was formed to enquire if Munroe could allot them “a part of the Square, usually known by the appellation of a site for the Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue, or some other public Square as near the centre Market as possible”; the committee are informed that the desired square “is not a fixed appropriation” and that if a bank is ever established there, “the remainder, after granting our request, will be amply sufficient for the purpose”; in a postscript, the committee ask that their request be communicated to the president if Munroe does not think himself authorized to grant it (same; in an unidentified hand, signed by Carroll, John P. Van Ness, William Duane, W. M. Duncanson, and William Brent; addressed “Thomas Munroe Esq Superintendent of the City of Washington”; with note in Munroe’s hand on verso of address sheet: “Memo. What is intended to be meant by the site especially known by the appellation of the Bank Sq. is the public space directly east of Sq 491, being the nearest thereto”). Other enclosures not found.

colo wrens: on his most recent journey from Washington to Monticello, TJ lodged the night of 7 Mch. at the Fairfax County tavern of James Wren (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1094; Vol. 33:508n).

genl. masons island: located in the Potomac River across from Georgetown, Mason’s Island was owned by Georgetown merchant John Mason and was known for its elegant residence and the elaborate landscapes and gardens designed by gardener David Hepburn. Also called Analostan Island, it was renamed Theodore Roosevelt Island in the twentieth century (Mary E. Curry, “Theodore Roosevelt Island: A Broken Link to Early Washington, D.C. History,” RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895–1989 description ends , 71–72 [1971–72], 14–33).

Writing Munroe from Washington on 12 Apr. 1803, William M. Duncanson asked the superintendent to present the president his proposal to enclose the Mall “west of 7th. Street, turning along 15th. Street and terminating in the Potomack.” Duncanson wished to cultivate the land “to raise nurseries of trees suited for the Mall or the Streets of the City, or in clover, garden stuffs, or such like.” Inhabitants would retain “free egress & regress,” but only on foot since horses could destroy any trees and shrubs. Since Mall improvements remained under the president’s control, Duncanson assumes that he would be reimbursed for the value of the fence whenever the president chose to resume control of the property (RC in DLC).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Munroe first wrote “or better in case a grant of the other site asked for should be rejected,” before altering the text to read as above.

3Word interlined in place of “destined.”

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