George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 23 June 1793

From the Commissioners for
the District of Columbia

Geo. Town 23rd June 1793


We inclose to you a letter from Majr Ellicott respecting a change of part of the southern Branch of the Canal, and his reasons for a change or totally striking out the Eastern Branch of it in the course of our divisions of the Carrollsburgh property, and the knowledge of situation and circumstances collected from the plats laid before us—the change of the southern branch occurred to ourselves as proper1—besides, having it in our power to do more Justice to the owners of lots, and saving considerably in the expence as noticed by Majr Ellicott instead of increasing the quantity of putur’d water in James’s Creek the Canal will serve as a good bed for the water and we may expect where it is now making, it will soon be improved into dry ground to the sides of the Canal—Majr Ellicotts plat which has been made on purpose will convey an idea of the whole alterations by the Change of the southern Canal and will also with level which will be taken tomorrow bring into View the Utility and expence of a new direction of the Eastern for it may well be doubted whether it will ever be executed in its new direction—We had desired Mr Hallet to study Doct. Thornton’s plan of a Capitol, we thought it prudent that the whole together and every part seperately should be in the mind of some person who was to see to the execution, perhaps it may be Hallet, perhaps not, he has been industrious and reports rather unfavourable on the great points of practacability time and expence he has simplified and abridged the plan, we have had not great time to consider it Mr Blodget and Mr Hoben seem to be in favour of it and so does Williamson, we wish for your Instructions, as it would be a lengthy work to go into particulars in writing if our Ideas were the most perfect, we begg leave to refer you to Mr Blodget Hoben and Hallet whose verbal information will be better than any we can give you,2 The Center Arch of the Bridge much to our sorrow is in a very ticklish state, in our situation we cannot take any step, and we rather incline to beli[e]ve it cannot be saved, if Harboughs efforts should prevent its falling, its proportion and beauty is gone, if it falls, as we expect we must do something for temporary use we shall meet with dificulties in the settlement,3 Expecting you may soon be here, we leave orders for the delivery of this presuming that you cannot well form your oppinion which we wish to have on the Canals and Capitol at a distance.4 We are sir, very truly and respectfully Your Most Obt Huml: Servts

Th. Johnson

Dd Stuart

Danl Carroll

LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802.

1For Andrew Ellicott’s letter to the commissioners of 21 June, see DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802. The proposed canal was intended to link Tiber Creek with Saint James Creek, which flowed southward to the Eastern Branch. Carrollsburg was located at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch rivers and lay within the Federal District. On the various maps and surveys of the Federal District available to the commissioners, including a topographical map produced by Ellicott in June 1793, see Ehrenberg, “Mapping the Nation’s Capital.” description begins Ralph E. Ehrenberg. “Mapping the Nation’s Capital: The Surveyor’s Office, 1791–1818.” Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 36 (1979): 279–319. description ends

2On the selection of William Thornton’s plan for the U.S. Capitol, and the concurrent rejection of Stephen Hallet’s design, see GW to the D.C. Commissioners, 31 Jan. 1793, and notes 1, 3, 5, and 2 April. Samuel Blodget, Jr., was the superintendent for the Federal City, James Hoban was the overseer of construction on the President’s House, and Collen Williamson was the supervisor for the cutting and laying of the stone used for government buildings in the Federal City.

3On difficulties with Leonard Harbaugh’s design and construction of a bridge over Rock Creek, see Tobias Lear to GW, 17 June 1793, and note 7.

4GW left Philadelphia on 24 June for a visit to Mount Vernon. When at Baltimore on 26 June, he met with Blodget, who delivered this letter from the commissioners and “made some communications respecting objections to Dr. Thornton’s plan.” When GW reached Georgetown the next day, he met with Hallet and Hoban, who presented their “objections” to the plan’s “irregularity & impracticability,” great expense, and length of construction time. GW remained at Georgetown that day to confer with the commissioners, but since the objections required “some time for consideration,” he took “such notes relative thereto as Mr. Hallett had made & put into my hands, in order to consider them … at Mount Vernon” (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 189). For the results of GW’s review of the objections, see GW to Thomas Jefferson, 30 June 1793 (second letter).

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