Pierre Charles L’Enfant

Pierre Charles L’Enfant

Infobox Person
name = Pierre Charles L’Enfant

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caption = Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant
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birth_date = August 9 1754
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death_date = June 14 1825
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nationality = American
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Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant (August 9 1754 – June 14 1825) was a French-born American architect and civil engineer.

Early life

L’Enfant was born at the Gobelins, Paris, the third child and second son of Marie Charlotte L’Enfant (aged 25 and the daughter of a minor marine official at court) and Pierre L'Enfant (1704-1787), a painter with a good reputation in the service of King Louis XV. In 1758 his brother Pierre Joseph died at the age of six, leaving him the eldest son. He studied at the Royal Academy in the Louvre before enrolling to fight in the American Revolution.

Military service

In 1777, L’Enfant moved to the American colonies as a military engineer with Major General Lafayette and served in the Continental Army.cite journal |author=Morgan, J.D. |title=Maj. Pierre Charles L’Enfant |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 118] L’Enfant became closely identified with the United States, adopting the name Peter. [Bowling, Kenneth R., Peter Charles L’Enfant: vision, honor, and male friendship in the early American Republic. George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 2002.] He was wounded at the Siege of Savannah in 1779, but recovered and served in General George Washington's staff as a Captain of Engineers for the remainder of the Revolutionary War. He was promoted by brevet to Major of Engineers on May 2, 1783 in recognition of his service to American liberty.cite journal |author=Morgan, J.D. |title=Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 119]

Architect and planner

Following the war, L'Enfant established a successful and highly profitable civil engineering firm in New York City. He achieved some fame as an architect by redesigning the City Hall in New York for the First Congress in Federal Hall. [CathEncy|wstitle=Pierre-Charles L'Enfant] He also designed coins, medals, furniture and houses of the wealthy, and was a friend of Alexander Hamilton.

In 1791, President George Washington appointed L’Enfant to design a new federal capital city under the supervision of three commissioners, whom Washington had appointed to oversee the planning and development of the ten-mile square of federal territory that would later become the District of Columbia. L’Enfant arrived in Georgetown on March 9, 1791, and began his work.cite journal |author=Stewart, John |title=Early Maps and Surveyors of the City of Washington, D.C |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 50] He presented his plan to George Washington on August 19, 1791.cite journal |author=Stewart, John |title=Early Maps and Surveyors of the City of Washington, D.C |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 52] He secured the lease of quarries at Wigginton Island and along Aquia Creek in Virginia to supply stone for the foundations of the Capitol in November 1791.cite journal |author=Morgan, J.D. |title=Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 120]

However, his temperament and his insistence that his city design be realized as a whole, brought L'Enfant into conflict with the District commissioners, who wanted to direct the limited funds available into construction of the federal buildings. In this, they had the support of Thomas Jefferson. As a result of L'Enfant's contentiousness, George Washington dismissed him from the project in February 1792, before L'Enfant was able to find a publisher for his plan.cite journal |author=Bryan, W.B. |title=L’Enfant's Personal Affairs |journal=Records of the Columbia Historical Society |date=1899 |volume=2 |pages=p. 113] [ [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/wash/lenfant.htm The L'Enfant and McMillan Plans] "in" [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/wash/"Washington, D.C., A National Register of Historic Places Travel Inventory"] "in" [http://www.nps.gov offical website of the U.S. National Park Service] Accessed August 14, 2008.] President Washington retained a copy of one of L’Enfant's original plans, which is now in the possession of the U.S. Library of Congress. [ [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/tri001.html Pierre Charles L'Enfant's 1791 "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government ...."] "in" [http://www.loc.gov official website of the U.S. Library of Congress] Accessed August 13, 2008. Note: The original copy of the L'Enfant's plan in the Library of Congress identifies the plan's author as "Peter Charles L'Enfant". The Library's website nevertheless identifies the author as "Pierre-Charles L'Enfant."] The last line in an oval in the upper left hand corner of the plan identifies the plan's author as "Peter Charles L’Enfant", as does the United States Code. [A copy of the oval in L'Enfant's plan that identifies the plan's author as "Peter Charles L'Enfant" is inscribed several yards west of an inlay of the plan in Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. The coordinates of the inscription are: coord|38.895845|-77.031286|type:landmark|name=Inscription of name of "Peter Charles L'Enfant" in inlay of L'Enfant's plan in Freedom Plaza] [The United States Code states in 40 U.S.C. 3309: "(a) In General.--The purposes of this chapter shall be carried out in the District of Columbia as nearly as may be practicable in harmony with the plan of Peter Charles L'Enfant." [http://frwebgate2.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate.cgi?WAISdocID=295046281463+0+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve] Retrieved April 15, 2008.]

Following L’Enfant's dismissal, the commissioners placed the planning for the capital city in the hands of the surveyors, Andrew and Joseph Ellicott, who had earlier conducted the original boundary survey of the future District of Columbia. Andrew Ellicott then revised L’Enfant's plan and, unlike L'Enfant, succeeded in having his revised version engraved, published, and distributed. [Washington Map Society: [http://home.earthlink.net/~docktor/wmslogo.htm Plan of the City of Washington] . The U.S. National Archives holds a copy of "Ellicott's engraved Plan superimposed on the Plan of L'Enfant showing the changes made in the engraved Plan under the direction of President Washington". See "Scope & Contents" page of "Archival Description" for National Archives holding of "Miscellaneous Oversize Prints, Drawings and Posters of Projects Associated with the Commission of Fine Arts, compiled 1893 - 1950", ARC Identifier 518229/Local Identifier 66-M; Series from Record Group 66: Records of the Commission of Fine Arts, 1893 - 1981. Record of holding obtained through search in [http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc Archival Descriptions Search of ARC - Archival Research Catalog] using search term "L'Enfant Plan Ellicott", August 22, 2008.] Ellicott's revision subsequently became the basis for the capital city's development.

L’Enfant was not paid for his work and fell into disgrace, spending much of the rest of his life trying to persuade Congress to pay what he felt he was owed. He was offered a position as Professor of Engineering at West Point, in 1812, but declined. L’Enfant died in poverty and was buried at the farm of a friend in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Later recognition

In 1901, the McMillan Commission used L'Enfant's plan as the cornerstone of its 1902 report, which laid out a plan for a sweeping National Mall. At the instigation of the French ambassador, Jean Jules Jusserand, L’Enfant's adopted nation then finally recognized his contributions. In 1909, after a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, L’Enfant's remains were reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery, on a hill overlooking the city that he had partially designed. [Coordinates of gravesite of Peter Charles L'Enfant in Arlington National Cemetery: Coord|38.881093|-77.072313|type:landmark|name=Peter Charles L’Enfant gravesite] In 1911, he was honored with a monument placed on top of his grave. Engraved on the monument is a portion of L'Enfant's own plan, which Andrew Ellicott's revision had superseded. [ Arlington National Cemetery: [http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/historical_information/pierre_charles_lenfant.html Historical Information: Pierre Charles L’Enfant] ]


* In 1942, a United States Liberty ship named the SS "Pierre L'Enfant" was launched. In 1970, she was wrecked and abandoned.
*L'Enfant Plaza, a complex of office buildings, a hotel, and an underground shopping mall in Southwest DC was dedicated in 1968. Meeting rooms in the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel bear the names of French artists, military leaders and explorers.
* Beneath L'Enfant Plaza is one of the central Metro stops in Washington DC, L'Enfant Plaza station.


*cite book | author=Berg, Scott W. | title=Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C. | publisher=Pantheon Books | year=2007 | id=ISBN 978-0-375-42280-5

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