Pat Burns

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District of Columbia

District of Columbia History Timeline

  • February 1752 – First survey of Georgetown completed.
  • 1789 – Town of Georgetown, Maryland, chartered and incorporated; Georgetown University founded.
  • 16 July 1790 – The Residence Act enacted, selecting a site along the Potomac River as the future location of the permanent seat of the federal government of the United States. President George Washington chose the exact site along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and the city was officially founded in 1790 after both Maryland and Virginia ceded land to this new “district,” to be distinct and distinguished from the rest of the states. (see timeline map below)
  • 24  January 1791 – Federal District proclamation was issued by President George Washington.
  • 1791 – Team led by Andrew Ellicott begins survey of the future boundaries of the original District of Columbia.
  • 1791 – Peter Charles L’Enfant’s Plan for design of the city of Washington introduced. L’Enfant presented a vision for a bold, modern city. He planned a grid system, at which the center would be the Capitol Building.
  • 9 September 1791 – Commissioners appointed by President Washington name the federal district as “The Territory of Columbia,” and the federal city as the “City of Washington.”
  • 1792 – Construction of White House (presidential residence) begins.
  • 1794 – Tudor Place (residence) built in Georgetown.
  • 1797 – “Bridge at Little falls” crossing the Potomac River opens at the future site of Chain Bridge.
  • 1800 – Seat of Federal government of the United States relocated to Washington from Philadelphia. President Adams moves into White House.
  • 1800 – United States Capitol building constructed.
  • 1800 – Washington Navy Yard established.
  • 24 February 1801 – – US Congress establishes the District of Columbia (comprising Washington County, Alexandria, and Alexandria County).
  • 4 March 1801 – US president Jefferson inaugurated.
  • 1802 – “City of Washington” incorporated mayor-council government established.
  • 1802 – Jail bult.
  • 1806 – Public school opens.
  • 20 May 1809 – Long Bridge crossing the Potomac River near 14th Street SW opens.
  • 24 August 1814  – Burning of Washington by British forces. During the War of 1812, British forces invaded the city and burned much of it to the ground, including the newly complete White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress (including all of its books). 
  • 1815 – Thomas Jefferson replenished the Library of Congress’ collection by selling off his entire library for $23,950.
  • 1815 – Washington City Canal begins operating.
  • 1816 – – St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square built.
  • 1818 – Central heating installed in the US Capitol building.
  • 1835 – Baltimore and Ohio Railroad begins operating. Labor trike by federal navy yard workers.
  • 15 December 1836 – 1836 U.S. Patent Office fire.
  • 1842 – United States Naval Observatory established.
  • 1844 – Baltimore-Washington telegraph begins operating.
  • 1846 – District of Columbia retrocession of Alexandria and Alexandria County to Virginia.  The portion of the city that had originally belonged to Virginia was retroceded, after the voters of Alexandria elected to leave DC, feeling that they had been left out of development on the other side of the river.
  • 1846 – National Smithsonian Institution established.
  • 1848 – Cornerstone of the Washington Monument placed.
  • Washington Gas Ligh Company established.
  • 1850 – District of Columbia’s stone for the Washington Monument dedicated.
  • 1850 – Congress abolishes slave trade in the District of Columbia.
  • 1855 – Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) completed.
  • 16 April 1862 – Slaves owned in Washington were emancipated, nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, and it therefore became a hub for freed slaves. Congress requires city to provide schooling for black students.
  • 1863 – national Academy of Schiences headquartered in city.
  • July 1864 – Battle of Fort Stevens.
  • 14 April 1865 – Assassination of president Lincoln.
  • 1865 – first black school opens at 2nd and C, SE.
  • 1867 – Howard University founded.
  • 1867 – “Blacks given right of suffrage”.
  • After the Civil War – Washington experienced substantial expansion, eventually absorbing nearby Georgetown and surrounding rural areas beyond L’Engant’s original plans. The initial boundary of Washington City was Florida Avenue, originally call Boundary Street. The first neighborhoods were those that grew up around the Capitol (Capitol Hill), the Center Market (Downtown) and the White House (Lafayette Square). 
  • 1869 – National Convention of the Colored Men of America held in city.
  • 1869 -American Equal Rights Association meets in city.
  • 1870 – Children’s Hospital established
  • 1877 – Washington Post newspaper begins publication.
  • 1878 – Telephone begins operating.
  • February 1881 – Flood.
  • 1881 – “Tiber Canal filled in to become Constitution Avenue.”
  • 1881 – American National Red Cross headquartered in city.
  • 1885 – Washington Monument dedicated.
  • 1888 – Electric streetcar begins operating- spurring creation of new suburbs.
  • 1889 – National Zoo opens.
  • 1890 – Rock Creek Park established
  • 1893 – American University founded
  • 1897 – American Negro Academy founded.
  • 1899 – Height of Buildings Act of 1899 legislated.
  • 1901 – the city proposed the McMillan Plan, which set out to restore and beautify the downtown core area, and fully complete L’enfant’s original designs. This included a redesign and expansion of the National Mall along with numerous monuments and museums. 
  • 1906 – District Building (city hall) constructed.
  • 1907 – Union Station Built.
  • 1907 – Washington National Cathedral construction begins.
  • 1912 – “Cherry trees planted around the tidal Basin.”
  • 1915 – Association for the Study of Negro Life and History established.
  • 1917 – National Sylvan Theater opens.
  • 28 January 1922 – Storm crushes Knickerbocker Theatre.
  • 30 May 1922 – Lincoln Memorial dedicated.
  • 11923 – Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art opens.
  • 1924 – National capital Park Commission established
  • 1924 – Washington Senators baseball team wins 1924 World Series.
  • 1926 – Federal Triangle construction begins.
  • 1931 – National Symphony Orchestra formed.
  • 1932 – Arlington Memorial Bridge opens.
  • 1932 – Folger Shakespeare Library built.
  • 1935 – National Cherry Blossom Festival begins.
  • 1937 – Washington Redskins football team active.
  • 1941 – National Airport built
  • 1941 – National Gallery of Art opens.
  • 1942 – Declaration by United Nations signed in city.
  • 1947 – WMAL-TV, WRC-TV, and WTTG (television) begin broadcasting.
  • 1949 – Whitehurst Freeway begins operating
  • 1949 – WTOP-TV (television) begins broadcasting.
  • 15 January 1953 – Pennsylvania Railroad train wreck in Union Station. A passenger and mail train malfunctioned and the train crashed into th station, jumped the passenger platform adn plunged through the floor of the passenger terminal into the basement of the train station. There were no deaths and  43 people were injured.
  • 1 March 1954 – United States Capitol shooting incident. An attack by four Puerto Rican nationalists, they shot 30 rounds from semi-automatic pistols from the Ladies Gallery (a balcony for visitors) of the House of Representatives chamber in the United States Capitol. Five Representatives were wounded, one seriously, but all recovered. the assailants were tried and convicted in federal court, given long sentences. In 1978 and 1979, they were pardoned by President Jimmy Carter. All four returned to Puerto Rico.
  • 1954 – Boiling v Sharpe decide, schools integrated in 54-55 school year.
  • 1962 – Streetcar stops operating.
  • 28 August 1963 – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; King gives “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • November1964 – Washingtonians were first allowed to vote in Presidential elections. Though a capital city, it is ironic that residents of Washington lack full self-governance. Representation in Congress is limited to a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives and a shadow senator.
  • 1964 – Capital Beltway constructed.
  • 1967 – Mayor-council form of government implemented, the city was allowed to elect its own mayor. Walter Washington becomes Mayor.
  • 1972 – Watergate scandal discovered.
  • March 1976 – Washington Metro begins operating.
  • For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Washington,_D.C.

District of Columbia Vital Records

  • 1 August 1874 – Birth and death records for the District of Columbia  began. DC law states that when 100 years have elapsed after the date of birth or fifty years after the date of death, those documents become public records and anyone may obtain a copy upon submitting a proper application. Anyone who can prove a relationship to a person of record can obtain a copy of that individual’s record sfor research purposes.
  • December 1811 – Marriage records date from December 1811 and continue to the present. Indexes are available through 1921; after that, records are filed chronologically. When fifty years have elapsed after the date of marriage, a record becomes public and anyone may obtain a copy upon application. 
  • 1803 – Divorce records in the nation’s capiol date from 1803.
  • FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online.

District of Columbia Census Records

Federal Population Schedules

  • Indexed—1800, 1820, 1830,1840, 1850, 1860 , 1870, 1880, 1890 (fragment), 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
  • Soundex1880, 1900, 1910 (Miracode), 1920 ((You can find definition of Soundex at FamilySearch.org wiki at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Soundex).

Industry and Agriculture

  • 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880

Mortality Schedules

  •  1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Union Veterans
  • 1890

Slave Schedules

  • 1850, 1860

When the first federal census was taken in 1790, residents of the nation’s capital living north of the Potomac River were enumerated with Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Those living south of the river were counted as Virginians; however, the 1790 census for Virginia has been lost. There is no 1810 census for the District of Columbia.

District of Columbia Animated Map

District of Columbia. Animated map showing territorial progression of the District of Columbia – Attribute: By epicAdam (talk) – Own work; I created this work entirely by myself, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5818549.

District of Columbia Resource Links

  1. Third Edition Red Book, American State, County, and Town Sources, Edited by Alice Eichholz Ph.D., C.G., Ancestry Publishing,The Generations Network, Inc.1989, 1992, 2004.

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