This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
" After coming upon the hill from the Eastern Branch ferry the country is level and on a space of above two miles each way present a most eligible position for the first settlement of a great city and one which if not the only within the limits of the Federal Territory is at least the more advantageous in that part laying between the eastern branch and Georgetown.
"... On that part terminating in a ridge to Jenkin's Hill and running in a parallel with and at half mile off from the river Potowmack separated by a low ground intersected with three grand streams,—many of the most desirable position offer for to errect the pub-liques edifices thereon—from these height every grand building would rear with a majestick aspect over the country all round and might be advatageously seen from twenty miles off which contigous to the first settlement of the city they would there stand to ages in a central point to it, facing on the grandest prospect of both of the branch of the Potowmack with the town of Alexandry in front seen in its fullest extant over many points of land projecting from the Mariland and Virginia shore in a maner as add much to the prospective at the end of which the cape of great hunting creek appear directly were a corner stone of the Federal district is to be placed and in the room of which a mejstick colum or a grand Pyramid being erected would produce the happyest effect and completely finished the land-skape. . . .
" Then the attractive local will lay all Round and at distance not beyond those limits within the which a city the capital of an extensive empire may be delineated".
The corner-stone of the Federal District, spoken of by L'Enfant, was laid by the Commissioners with appropriate ceremonies on the 15th day of April at Hunter's Point, just south of Alexandria. In the following month, Trumbull, the artist, visited Georgetown, where he found the Frenchman busy with his plans ; and together they rode over the ground on which the city has since been built. u Where the Capitol now stands was then a thick wood." Jefferson had furnished L'Enfant with maps of many foreign cities, which he had collected in travel. The engineer's mind, however, dwelt more fondly on the work of Le Ndtre in dearly beloved France, and drawing his principal inspiration from Versailles, a city remarkable for the regularity and beauty of its construction, for its three grand avenues of Paris, St. Cloud and Sceaux, diverging from the Place du Chateau, and for its magnificent palace and gardens designed by Louis XIV. for himself and his court, he furnished plans for the broad avenues, vistas, streets and parkings which to-day make Washington the admiration of visitors, and, in truth, "The City of Magnificent Distances".
The site selected for the Capitol, which is called " Congress house " by the French surveyor in his original map, was upon the Cern Abby Manor, owned by Daniel Carroll. This map gives the latitude of Congress House as 38° 53' N., and the longitude as o° o'.* In his observations, placed upon his manuscript map by L'Enfant himself, is the following paragraph : "In order to execute the above plan, Mr. Ellicott drew a true meridional line by celestial observations which passes through the area intended for the Congress house ; this line he crossed by another due East and West, which passes through the same area. These lines were accurately measured, and made the basis on which the whole plan was executed. He ran all the lines by a Transit Instrument, and determined the acute angles by actual measurement, and left nothing to the uncertainty of the compass".
In placing the Capitol, where it now stands, on the brow of a hill which rises eighty-eight feet above the river, its projectors doubtless contemplated as the principal site for the future city the plateau to the eastward—presenting, as it did, beautiful and ample building sites, and commanding a far more extensive view than the Capitoline Hill in Rome, with which it is scarcely comparable otherwise than in name. It is recorded, however, that, even in the early days of the District of Columbia, speculators in real estate were potent, and this seems to be verified by a letter from Washington, written to the Commissioners from Philadelphia on November 17, 1792 : " I agree with you in opinion that ground in such eligible places as about the Capitol and the President's house, should not be sold in squares, unless there are some great and apparent advantages to be derived from specified buildings—immediate improvements, or something which will have a tendency to promote the advancement of the city. The circumstances under which Mr. Blodget bid off the square near the Capitol, were such as occur at almost every public sale,—and, in that instance his having done so appeared very proper for the interest of the public. I agree however with you that it wou'd be best for the circumstance, not to be generally known." The value of land in the vicinity of the Capitol was so enhanced that improvements were forced, for the mo^t part, in the opposite direction, of the north and northwest; and west from Greenwich thus it happens that the Capitol presents the curious spectacle of having its rear facade, rather than its imposing front, toward the wealthier and more extended portion of the city.
* The latitude of the Capitol is 380 53' 20.4" north ; the longitude 77° 00' 35.7".
It was L'Enfant's expressed intention to render impossible in Washington such barricading of streets as had proved destructive to Paris during her revolutionary uprisings. From the Capitol, principal avenues radiate like the spokes of a wheel, commanding all approaches as to a fortress. Here center also North, South, East and West Capitol Streets, the last of which, however, is merged and lost in the public grounds, known as the " Mall," which extend in that direction to the river. In a letter of September 9, 1791, to L'Enfant, the Commissioners say that they have " agreed the streets be named alphabetically one way and numerically the other, the former divided into north and south letters, the latter into east and west numbers from the Capitol." They decide further "that the federal District shall be called the ' Territory of Columbia,' and the Federal City 1 The City of Washington.' "