Enfilade

New Book | Building Washington

Posted in books by Editor on February 19, 2018

From Johns Hopkins UP:

Robert Kapsch, Building Washington: Engineering and Construction of the New Federal City, 1790−1840 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), 384 pages, ISBN: 978  14214  24873, $70.

In 1790, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set out to build a new capital for the United States of America in just ten years. The area they selected on the banks of the Potomac River, a spot halfway between the northern and southern states, had few resources or inhabitants. Almost everything needed to build the federal city would have to be brought in, including materials, skilled workers, architects, and engineers. It was a daunting task, and these American Founding Fathers intended to do it without congressional appropriation.

Robert Kapsch’s beautifully illustrated book chronicles the early planning and construction of our nation’s capital. It shows how Washington, D.C., was meant to be not only a government center but a great commercial hub for the receipt and transshipment of goods arriving through the Potomac Canal, then under construction. Picturesque plans would not be enough; the endeavor would require extensive engineering and the work of skilled builders. By studying an extensive library of original documents—from cost estimates to worker time logs to layout plans—Kapsch has assembled a detailed account of the hurdles that complicated this massive project. While there have been many books on the architecture and planning of this iconic city, Building Washington explains the engineering and construction behind it.

Robert J. Kapsch is a researcher and principal of the Center for Historic Engineering and Architecture. He is the author of The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West, Historic Canals and Waterways of South Carolina and Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania.

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