Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6


Saturday. November 1 1834.

“The Pennsylvania Avenue Looks Now Far More Like A Street and the Place Begins to Concentrate” facing or following page 109[unavailable]

The view of Washington from the terrace of the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue, reproduced here, reflects the city as it was in 1834. The drawing of J. R. Smith was engraved by J. B. Neagle and published in that year, along with ten other scenes in the United States, in a new edition of Conrad Malte-Brun’s A System of Universal Geography, 3 vols., Boston, 1834, vol. 2:facing p. 222.

Compared with the urban prospects presented by New York and Philadelphia to Charles Francis Adams on the journey that brought him to Washington in November 1834, the essentially rural character that Washington retained, despite the development of Pennsylvania Avenue, becomes evident in the engraving. Not until after the exhumation of Major L’Enfant’s “grand design” in 1889, almost a hundred years after he prepared it, would there be significant change in the physical aspect of the capital city, despite the growth in population and the construction of individual and monumental government buildings. The impression made on Charles Francis Adams in 1834 that “The Pennsylvania Avenue looks now far more like a Street and the place begins to concentrate, but every thing wears the appearance of poverty and of want of permanency” (p. 15, below) is echoed in the words of his son Henry describing the impression made by Washington on him on successive visits in 1850, 1860, and 1868:


“Venturing outside ... he found himself on an earth-road, or village street, with wheel tracks meandering from the colonnade of the Treasury hard by, to the white marble columns and fronts of the Post Office and Patent Office which faced each other in the distance, like white Greek temples in the abandoned gravel-pits of a deserted Syrian city. Here and there low wooden houses were scattered along the streets, as in other Southern villages” ( The Education of Henry Adams , Boston, 1918, p. 44).

“Ten years had passed since his last visit, but very little had changed. As in 1800 and 1850, so in 1860, the same rude colony was camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads” ( Education , p. 99).

“Beyond Lafayette Square the country began.... It was rural, and its society was primitive.... The happy village was innocent of a club. The one-horse tram on F Street to the Capitol was ample for traffic.... The value of real estate had not increased since 1800, and the pavements were more impassable than the mud.... Washington was a mere political camp, as transient and temporary as a camp-meeting for religious revival” ( Education , p. 253, 256).

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.