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Historic Boundary Markers of the Federal District

Morning Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, May 19, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. ET
Code: 1NV064
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Materials for this program

District boundary stone, Northwest Mile 7

The decision to locate the Federal District on the Potomac was partly due to George Washington’s passionate belief in the river’s strategic potential as a waterway to the West. When he ordered the laying out of a 10-mile-square district to be the seat of government, he directed that boundary stones mark one-mile intervals along its border. The first of 40 stones was placed with great ceremony on April 5, 1791, and although the government did not move here until 1801, these stones remind us of the Founding Fathers’ ambitious plans for the nation’s capital and of the area’s early history.

In an engaging virtual presentation, historian Dakota Springston tells the story of the laying out the District’s boundaries by a team of surveyors, including the free Black man Benjamin Banneker. Using maps and visuals, he examines the boundary markers on the northern and western lines of the District, which are perhaps among the oldest remaining vestiges of the early-Federal era. The story of the stones and the people who surveyed and placed them offers insights into a period in which the idea of an American federal city became a reality.

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