George Washington Papers

Proclamation, 17 October 1791


[Georgetown, Md.] October 17th 1791.

The President of the United States doth hereby order and direct that the sale of Lots in the City of Washington to commence this day be of such lots as the Commissioners or any two of them shall think proper—that the same sale shall be under their direction and on the Terms they shall publish.1

Go: Washington.

LB, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802; copy, DLC:GW.

The October meeting of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia convened in Georgetown on 15 Oct., two days before the scheduled first sale of lots in the Federal City. Before the meeting Andrew Ellicott had laid out into 40–by–100–foot lots ten squares on the property of Samuel Davidson, Uriah Forrest, Benjamin Stoddert, and James M. Lingan, northwest of the site of the present-day White House, in an area currently bounded by 17th, L, 21st, and H streets, Northwest. On 16 Oct. these lots were divided between the commissioners and the proprietors, the commissioners generally retaining every other one (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802). GW, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were present for the opening of the sale of lots that began this day but were forced to press on toward Philadelphia in the afternoon. Jefferson’s traveling companion, Ternant, the French minister, remained behind to observe the sale. The bidding was hampered by the lack of a printed plan of the city for prospective buyers, who could see plats of the divided squares prepared by Ellicott, but had to rely on L’Enfant’s verbal descriptions to understand how those squares fit into his city plan (see GW to Tobias Lear, 2, 14 Oct., and Lear to GW, 6, 9, 11 October). For the outcome of the sale, see GW to David Stuart, 18 Oct., and Stuart to GW, 19 October.

1GW signed a second proclamation this day for regulating lot improvements, building materials, and construction in the Federal City.

“1st That the outer and party walls of all houses within the said City shall be built of Brick or Stone.

“2d That all buildings on the Streets shall be parallel thereto and may be advanced to the Line of the Street, or withdrawn therefrom at the pleasure of the Improver: But where any such building is about to be erected, neither the foundation or party wall shall be begun, without first applying to the person or persons appointed by the Commissioners to superintend the buildings within the City, who will ascertain the lines of the walls to correspond with those regulations.

“3d The wall of no house to be higher than forty feet to the roof in any part of the City, nor shall any be lower than thirty five feet on any of the Avenues.

“4th That the person or persons appointed by the Commissioners to superintend the buildings may enter on the land of any person to set out the foundations and regulate the walls to be built between party and party as to the Breadth and thickness thereof: which foundation shall be laid equally upon the lands of the persons between whom such party walls are to be built and shall be of the Breadth and thickness determined by such person, proper. And the first builder shall be reimbursed one moiety of the charge of such party wall, or so much thereof as the next builder shall any ways use or break into the said wall. The charge or value thereof to be set by the person or persons appointed by the Commissioners.

“5th As temporary conveniences will be proper for lodging workmen and securing materials for building, it is to be understood that such may be erected with the approbation of the Commissioners, but they may be removed and discontinued by the special order of the Commissioners.

“6th The way into the squares being designed in a special manner for the common use and convenience of the occupiers of the respective squares, the property in the same is reserved to the public, so that there may be an immediate interference on any abuse of the use thereof by any individual to the nuisance or obstruction of others. The proprietors of the Lots adjoining the entrance into the squares, on arching over the Entrance and fixing gates in the manner the Commissioners shall approve shall be intitled to devide the space over the arching and build it up with the range of that line of the square.

“7th No vaults shall be permitted under the streets nor any encroachments on the foot way above by stoops, porches, cellar doors, windows, ditches or leaning walls, nor shall there be any projection over the streets, other than the eves of the house without the consent of the Commissioners.

“8th These regulations are the terms and conditions under and upon which conveyances are to be made according to the deeds in Trust of the Lands within the City” (copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802). For the formulation of these regulations, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 8 Sept., and its enclosure, Memorandum for Thomas Jefferson with Jefferson’s Answers and Notes, 27 Aug.—8 September. GW repealed by executive order on 25 June 1796 the first regulation mandating brick or stone construction, as it tended to discourage settlement in the Federal City of mechanics and others of less affluence.

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