Washington County, D.C.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Map of the District of Columbia with the original jurisdiction of Washington County highlighted in red

The County of Washington was one of five original political entities within the District of Columbia, the capital territory of the United States. Formed by the Organic Act of 1801, Washington County covered the remainder of the federal district ceded by the state of Maryland beyond the newly founded capital city of Washington and the pre-existing port of Georgetown. The bed of the Potomac River was considered to be part of Washington County as well.[1] The City of Alexandria and adjacent Alexandria County formed the portion of the District ceded by the state of Virginia, but were returned by Congress in 1846.[2]

Washington County was governed by a levy court that consisted of three Justices of the Peace appointed by the President of the United States. These justices carried out the duties of county commissioners. Despite being within the federal territory, Congress left Washington County subject to the laws of Maryland.[3]

Historical population
Census Pop.
1800 1,941
1810 2,315 19.3%
1820 2,729 17.9%
1830 2,994 9.7%
1840 3,069 2.5%
1850 3,320 8.2%
1860 5,225 57.4%
1870 11,117 112.8%

For much of its early history, Washington County was covered by farmland and large country estates. These estates included Pleasant Plains, the estate of the Holmead family; Edgewood, home of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase; and Petworth, the estate of Colonel John Tayloe III. Also contained in Washington County was the U.S. Soldiers' Retirement Home, where President Abraham Lincoln lived during his summers as President. Despite its comparatively large geographic size, Washington County was sparsely populated until the end of the 19th century.

During the American Civil War (1861–65), Washington County contained a partial circle of defensive fortifications that made Washington one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world at that time.[5] The forts surrounding Union-held territory in Virginia completed the defense circle. The Battle of Fort Stevens, July 11–12, 1864, took place in Washington County.

After the Civil War, many of the old estates in Washington County were bought up by real estate speculators and then developed into suburbs for the growing capital city. Among the earliest developments were LeDroit Park and Mount Pleasant, which eventually became the first "streetcar suburb". Uniontown and Barry Farm, a settlement for freedmen, developed east of the Anacostia River.

Washington County was consolidated with the City of Washington and Georgetown in 1871 following the passage of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871. This law brought the entire District of Columbia under the control of a territorial government headed by an appointed governor, an appointed eleven-member council, and a locally elected 22-member assembly. Two of the eleven council seats were reserved for representatives from the County of Washington.[6] This form of government lasted only three years when Congress abolished the territorial government in favor of direct rule over the District by an appointed three-member commission.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Proctor, John Clogett, ed. (1930). Washington Past and Present 1. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company Inc. p. 52. 
  2. ^ Richards, Mark David (Spring–Summer 2004). "The Debates over the Retrocession of the District of Columbia, 1801–2004" (PDF). Washington History (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.): 54–82. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  3. ^ "Statutes at Large, 6th Congress, 2nd Session". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  4. ^ "1870 Census Information (includes aggregate census information for every year prior to 1790)". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  5. ^ "Civil War Defenses of Washington". National Park Service. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  6. ^ "An Act to provide a Government for the District of Columbia". Statutes at Large, 41st Congress, 3rd Session. Library of Congress. Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  7. ^ Wilcox, Delos Franklin (1910). Great cities in America: their problems and their government. The Macmillan Company. pp. 27–30.