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Fanning's Illustrated Gazetteer of the United States

State, Territories, Counties, Cities, Towns & Post Offices


Transcribed by Jeana Gallagher and Sandy Stutzman for the exclusive use of Genealogy Trails

Washington, DC

The capital of the United States, is pleasantly situated on the east bank of the Potomac river, in latitude 38°53' 34" north, and longitude 77°1'30" west from Greenwich.  It is 195 miles from the ocean, following the course of the river, 225 miles southwest of New York, and 1,203 miles northeast of New Orleans.  The city is built on a point of land formed by the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers, which afford a good harbor for vessels of the largest class.  Commerce, however, flows naturally toward Baltimore, leaving Washington perhaps a less rapid but more quiet growth.  A more beautiful site for a city could hardly be obtained.  It was selected by Washington as the fittest locality for the seat of the national government, and the city was laid out under his direction.  It is said his attention was called to the advantages of this location as long previous as when he had been a youthful surveyor of the country around.  Pleasant slopes, decked with elegant mansions, surrounded by hills and varied scenery, and the general aspect and airiness of the town, conduce to render Washington an agreeable place of residence.  The city is planned on a grand scale, and, if ever built up as originally designed, would be one of the finiest cities in the world.  By this plan, seven spacious avenues were laird out, to diverge from the capitol as a centre, and five avenues form rays for the president's house, the latter building and the capitol being each situated on beautiful eminences, about one and a half miles apart, and connected by Pennsylvania avenue, now the principal street in the city.  The Avenues are named after different states, and are crossed diagonally by streets running east and west, named after letters of the alphabet, and others running north and south, which are named after numbers.  The avenues and streets leading to public places are from 120 to 160 feet wide, and other streets are from 70 to 110 feet wide.  Only a comparatively small part of its extensive site is yet covered by buildings, which, in connection with its spacious avenues, has given it the designation of the "city of magnificent distances." A bridge a mile long crosses the Potomac, another the Anacostia (some times termed the eastern branch of the Potomac), and two others, over Rock creek, connect Washington, with Georgetown.  On the Anacostia is a Navy yard, occupying an area of 27 acres.

The capital is justly regarded as one of the finest national buildings in the world.  It stands on a gentle eminence, in the midst of a beautiful space of 23 acres, highly ornamented with trees, shrubbery, &c.  The dome, which is 120 feet from the ground, is the first object which strikes the eye from a distance.  The edifice is of freestone, and, as originally built, consisted of a central part and two wings.  The width of the whole building was 352 feet, and depth of the wings 121 feet, all occupying an area of one and a half acres.  But, in the addition of new states to the Union, with the consequent numerical increase of congressional representation, the capital, on its original plan, has become too limited, and an enlargement was commenced in 1851, and is being rapidly pressed to completion.  These additions will consist of two wings at the ends of the buildings, with which they will be connected by corridors, or piazzas, 44 feet long and 50 feet wide.  The wings will each be 143 feet by 238, exclusive of porticoes and steps; and the entire length of the building, when completed, will be 751 feet, and the area it covers 153,112 square feet, or over three and a half acres.  Beneath the dome is the rotunda, a spacious apartment 96 feet high, and of the same diameter.  On its walls the magnificent national paintings of Trumbull, Chapman, Wier, and Vanderlyn, are hung.  The room is also adorned with basso-relieyo groups, representing prominent events in American history.  The senate chamber is in the north wing, and the hall of the house of representatives in that of the south.  Under the senate chamber is the room where the supreme court sits.  These apartments are all richly furnished, and ornamented with statuary and paintings.

The president's house is a noble and spacious edifice, also of freestone.  It is 170 feet long, and 86 feet wide, with Ionic pilasters, comprehending two lofty stories, with a stone balustrade.  The north front is ornamented with a portico, sustained by four Ionic columns, with three projecting columns, affording a shelter for carriages to drive under.  The garden, or southern front, is embellished by a circular colonnade of six Ionic columns.  The interior of the president's house possesses one superb reception room, commonly known as the "East room," and two oval drawing rooms, one in each story, of very beautiful proportions.  The house stands in an enclosed area of some twenty acres, and commands from its balcony one of the loveliest prospects in the country.

Near the president's house are the buildings occupied by the state, treasury, war, and navy departments.  The United States treasury is 300 feet long, with a wing in the rear of 100 feet.  Along the front is a colonnade, composed of 23 columns, of massive proportions.  The general post office is a splendid marble building, with two wings, and adorned with pilasters.  The patent office is a spacious and noble looking building.  The models of inventions are here placed on exhibition, and form an interesting development of the genius of our country.

The erection of the Washington monument is steadily progressing, and has reached a considerable altitude.  The most prominent and imposing object of this colossal structure will be the obelisk shaft rising through the centre to the height of 600 feet, 70 feet square at the base, and 40 at the top.  The several states of the Union, and many associations, have each prepared a stone, bearing an appropriate inscription, to be placed in the monument.  The Smithsonian Institute, founded by the munificent bequest of $500,000 made by an English gentleman (after whom it is named) to the American government, for the advancement of knowledge among men, is one of he purest specimens of architecture in the world.

The manufactures of Washington are by no means contemptible; and its trade with the surrounding country is facilitated by the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, which extends from Alexandria to Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac river.  The Washington Branch railroad connects the city with Baltimore; and the Washington and Wilmington line, through Virginia and North Carolina, diverges from this point.

The population in 1800 was 3,210; in 1810 was 8,208; in 1820 was 13,247; in 1830 was 18,87; in 1840 was 23,364; and in 1850 was 40,001

District of Columbia

Area was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia, in 1790 and became the seat of the national government in 1800.  It was originally ten miles square, lying on both sides of the Potomac, thirty-six square miles having been taken from Virginia, which constituted the city and county of Alexandria, and sixty-four square miles from Maryland, embracing the county of Washington.  By an Act of Congress, in 1846, which was subsequently accepted by the people of Alexandria, that county was retrocede to the state of Virginia, and the District of Columbia was now restricted to the Maryland side of the Potomac, embracing the cities of Washington and Georgetown.  This district was the theatre of disgraceful scenes, in our last war with England, in 1814.  IN August of that year Washington was left in a defenseless condition, when invaded by the British, and was deserted by the President, the heads of the departments, and by most of the citizens.  The enemy entered the city, burned the capitol, including the library of Congress, the mansion of the president, the navy-yard, with its contents, and most of the public offices, except the patent office.  The whole world regarded this act as a violation of the rules of modern warfare.

 The surface of this territory is gently undulating, with some low marshes, but there are several eminences which afford fine seats for the cities within its limits.  The soil, with little exception, is sterile in its natural state, but has of late been rendered productive by superior cultivation,  The climate is similar to that of the contiguous states.

The population: in 1800 was 14,093; in 1810 was 24,023; in 1820 was 33,039; in 1830 was 39,834; in 1840 was was 43,712; and in 1850 was 51,687.

Number of slaves in 1800 was 3,244; in 1810 was 5,395; in 1820 was 6,377; in 1830 was 6,119; in 1840 was 4,694 and in 1850 was 3,687.

The civil government of this district is under the immediate authority of the United States, and the municipal power is exercised by a mayor and corporation.  It has never been represented in Congress.

Georgetown, Washington Co, DC

A city, separated from Washington city by Rock creek, and distant from the Capitol about 3 miles.  It is beautifully located, the ground on which the town stands rising to a considerable height above the Potomac upon which it fronts.  The scenery around is varied and pleasant; and on the west stand the picturesque and rocky hills, which here begin to change the aspect of the river's banks.  The public buildings and private dwellings have a substantial appearance.  The Roman catholic college and the churches are especially magnificent.  The Chesapeake and Ohio canal commences at Georgetown.  Oak Grove Cemetery is located in this town, and is handsomely laid out.  Georgetown was formerly a place of considerable business and manufactures; but its progress of late years has not kept pace with that of many other towns.  Its population has been almost stationary for the last twenty years.

Population: in 1830 was 7,350; in 1840 was 7,312 and in 1850 was 8,366

District of Columbia Territory

1850 Counties 



Area in sq miles

Courts held at

Pop in 1850

Alexandria Co, VA formerly comprised the part of SC west of Potomac river 36 Alexandria 10,008
Washington in DC, Potomac river on southwest 64 Washington DC 51,687

1850 Towns






Anacostia PO Washington Co, DC    
Alexandria City Alexandria Co, DC 8,734 seat of justice, PE Theological Seminary, water by Potomac river
Georgetown City Washington Co, DC 8,366 Roman College
Tenallytown PO Washington Co, DC    

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