The area that is now Washington Circle was one of the original major squares in L'Enfant's plan for Washington City. In the 19th century is was originally a large open area that over time became very run-down and unsightly. In 1855, a government official charged with overseeing the public grounds in Washington decided to enclose the central area as a circular park and route the roads around it, thus forming the first traffic circle in the city. In 1860, the statue of George Washington, sculpted by Clark Mills, who had done the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, was installed in the center of the park. The area around the circle began to improve in the latter part of the 19th century, and more attention was put into maintaining a well-manicured park. In fact, by the 1880s, a full-time watchman was assigned to maintain the park. A 1905 inventory listed 48 different species of trees in the park, many of them imported and non-native. This postcard view dates to perhaps 1910 and shows the park in its salad days (shall we say) of profuse natural diversity.
A lot has happened in the last hundred years, of course. K Street was tunneled all the way under the circle; there is no longer a full-time caretaker; and the profuse flora has been severely thinned out. In 1932, the curving 19th century footpaths around the circle were replaced with a more straightforward arrangement of circular sidewalks. As seen in the current view below, the statue of George Washington remains the same as ever, although he was been removed and restored at least once in the intervening years.
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