Make No Little Plans
— Federal Triangle Heritage Trail —
Soon after the Federal government moved to Washington in 1800, this area attracted shops and stables to serve the new residents. But where Constitution Avenue runs today, just south of this sign, Tiber Creek flowed - and often flooded. In 1815 engineers channeled the creek into the new Washington Canal.
By 1860, however, the canal had deteriorated into an open sewer. Impoverished families, both African American and white, lived in small wood-frame houses along unpaved, often muddy streets and alleys. Crime was rampant.
The Civil War (1861-1865) brought thousands of soldiers and civilians into the capital, and brothels and saloons thrived. This area became known as "Hooker's Division," a pun on the name of General Joseph Hooker, who commanded an Army division defending Washington.
After the war ended, Alexander "Boss" Shepherd, head of Washington's powerful Board of Public Works, filled and paved over the canal, though the area remained flood-prone. Reformers such as the Central Union Mission and Anti-Saloon League moved here, as did cabinet workshops, lumber yards, and other industrial facilities. But the old businesses continued - despite the 1908 arrival of the District Building, home to the city government and police department - until Congress finally outlawed prostitution in 1914, and Prohibition shut down the saloons a few years later.
The Division, including homes, a church, and a school, was bulldozed for construction of the Federal Triangle in 1926. Five years later, Congress renamed B Street (and the filled-in canal) Constitution Avenue.
As you walk through the passageway on your way to Sign 11, please note the typical Federal Triangle cobblestone walk and rusticated (rough-edged) limestone.
You are standing in the Federal Triangle, a group of buildings whose grandeur symbolizes the power and dignity of the United States. Located between the White House and the Capitol, these buildings house key agencies of the U.S. Government.
The Federal Triangle is united by the use of neoclassical revival architecture, drawing from styles of ancient Greece and Rome that have influenced public buildings throughout the ages. Although each structure was designed for a specific government department or agency, they all share limestone fa?ades, red-tiled roofs and classical colonnades. Their architectural features, following traditions of the Parisian School of Fine Arts (?cole des Beaux-Arts), illustrate each building's original purpose. Most of the Federal Triangle was constructed between 1927 and 1938. However, the Old Post Office and the John A. Wilson Building survive from an earlier era, while the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center was not completed until 1998.
In 1791 Pierre L'Enfant designed a city plan for the new cpaital in Washington under the direction of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The L'Enfant Plan overlaid broad avenues on a street grid with areas reserved for prominent buildings and parks. This area originally followed L'Enfant's vision as a center for businesses serving the municipal and federal governments. By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), it had become a hodgepodge of boarding houses, stables, and light industry. This disarray, and the growing need for government office space, led to calls for redevelopment. In 1901 the Senate Park Commission, known as the McMillan Commission, created a new plan for Washington's parks and monumental areas and redefined the Triangle as a government center. In 1926 Congress authorized a massive building program that drew inspiration from classical architecture to create today's monumental Federal Triangle.
Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, D.C. Walking Trail. The self-guided, 1.75-mile tour of 16 signs offers about one hour of gentle exercise. Its theme comes from "Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans," attributed to visionary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, chair of the McMillan Commission.
For more information on Federal Triangle buildings, please visit www.gsa.gov. For more information on DC neighborhoods and walking tours, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
Make No Little Plans: Federal Triangle Heritage Trail is produced by the U.S. General Services Administration in collaboration with the District Department of Transportation and Cultural Tourism DC.