Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/District of Columbia

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COLUMBIA, District of, a territory of the United States of America, originally erected under a law of Congress of July 1790, for the establishment of a permanent seat of government. This law authorized the acquisition by the United States of a territory not exceeding ten miles square, at the confluence of the Potomac and its eastern branch. A part of the territory thus designated was ceded to the United States by Virginia, and included the city of Alexandria, and a part by Maryland including the city of Georgetown. Outside of these cities the territory was occupied by planters and farmers, as it had been from the latter part of the 17th century. By a law of Congress of July 1846, that portion of the district which had been ceded to the United States by Virginia was ceded back to that State. The present area of the district is 64 square miles. Under the law of 1790, three commissioners were appointed to receive the cession of the district, and to lay out the city of Washington and erect the public buildings for the reception of the Federal Government. The cornerstone of the Capitol was laid by Washington, September 18, 1793. On the first Monday of December 1800, the removal of the Government from Philadelphia was effected.

The surface of the district is diversified by hill and dale, is well wooded with oak, maple, chestnut, hickory, and other trees, is productive when well cultivated, and affords at several points extended and beautiful views of the valley of the Potomac. The scenery of Rock Creek, an affluent of the Potomac, is also celebrated for its romantic beauty. The climate is temperate and healthy. In the autumn bilious fevers are sometimes prevalent on the low grounds. The staple product before 1800 was tobacco, the culture of which has of late years been abandoned for grain, Indian corn, hay, fruit, and vegetables, all of which are produced in great abundance, and sold at remunerative prices in the markets of Washington and Georgetown. The shad and herring fisheries of the Potomac yield a large revenue.

The population of the district at each census since its organization is thus stated:—

 White.   Coloured.   Total. 

  1800   5,672  2,472  8,144 
1810 10,345  5,126  15,471 
1820 16,058  7,278  23,336 
1830 21,152  9,109  30,261 
1840 23,926  9,819  33,745 
1850 37,941  13,746  51,687 
1860 60,763  14,316  75,080 
1870  88,278   43,404   131,700 

The native born population in 1870 was 115,446; the foreign-born, 16,254. The number of dwellings was 23,308; persons to a dwelling, 5·65; valuation of real and personal estate, $126,873,618; value of farms, $3,800,000; of farm productions, $319,000. The number of manufacturing establishments was 952; steam-engines, 54; water-wheels, 15; hands employed, 4685; capital, $5,021,925; products, $9,292,173,—consisting mainly of flour, building materials, furniture, clothing, and iron. The debt of the district, mainly incurred since 1872 in the construction of sewers and the paving of streets in Washington and Georgetown, is about $25,000,000.

The district is under the control of Congress, and its municipal affairs are regulated by three commissioners appointed by the president and Senate, by virtue of a law of 1874. The courts are constituted by Act of Congress, and the judges appointed by the president and Senate. By the law of 1874, the municipalities of Georgetown and Washington were abolished, and the elective franchise throughout the district suppressed. It has no representative in Congress.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal connects Georgetown, the head of tide-water on the Potomac, with Cumberland, the centre of the bituminous coal region of the State of Maryland. It is 180 miles in length, and transports 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum. The district is intersected by the Washington and Metropolitan branches of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and by the Baltimore and Potomac Railway, and is connected with the south by rail to Alexandria, the northern terminus of the Virginia railway system. There are well-managed lines of steamboats running to Norfolk, Baltimore, and New York, the last freighted mainly with flour from the district mills. The coal tonnage of the Potomac exceeds 600,000 tons annually from the port of Georgetown, which is the port of entry for the district of Columbia.

Since 1793 the United States Government has expended $60,000,000 in the erection of public buildings and improvement of public grounds in the district. For each of the years 1873, 1874, and 1875, Congress appropriated over $2,000,000 as its share of the expenses of the district government. The free schools of the district are maintained at an annual cost of $400,000. The Columbian university, established by the Baptists in 1821, is a well-endowed and flourishing institution. The Howard university, established for the education of the freed men, is also well patronized. There are 120 church edifices in the district, of which the Baptists have 25, the Methodists 42, the Roman Catholics 14, the Episcopalians 20, the Presbyterians 14, and the Lutherans 8. The United States navy yard in Washington is one of the most complete in its appointments of all the dock-yards in the country.