View of the Mall in 1870

View of the Mall from the U.S. Capitol, circa 1870 (Author's collection) Click to enlarge.
When this photo was taken around 1870, the Mall still had most of its original layout, although much would change in the coming years. The bottom third of the photo shows trees on the west Capitol grounds. Left of center are the three white domed buildings of the old U.S. Botanic Garden, before it was moved to its present-day location on the south side of the Mall. The sharp white line to the right of the Botanic Garden is a path through the grass, but just above it is a segment of the old Washington City Canal, which has not yet been covered over. The canal is barely discernible as it jogs to the right, but then it continues to the Potomac River at an angle in the upper right center of the photo. The unfinished Washington Monument is faintly visible rising directly in front of the river a short distance to the left of where the canal runs into the river. Along the right side of the photo runs Pennsylvania Avenue, which looks empty because the long exposure of the photo has made all moving objects disappear. The black marks in the center of the road are streetcar tracks. Looking much rougher is Maryland Avenue SW, which runs along the left edge of the photo. A natural gas storage tank rises next to it, at about where the Air and Space Museum now stands. The short dark tower rising near the river is the Smithsonian Castle. What other early landmarks can you pick out in this view?

If you've done research on any aspect of Washington's past and would like to present your results to an enthusiastic and attentive audience, then please consider submitting a proposal for the 42nd Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies, to be held this November:

New Freedoms, New Lives: the 42nd Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies
November 12-15, 2015
Carnegie Library 801 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C.


The Conference Committee of the Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies cordially invites presentations on all topics relating to the history of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., including nearby Maryland and Virginia as well as the federal government. Particularly welcome are complete sessions or papers addressing the theme of “New Freedoms, New Lives” as historians continue to reconsider the legacy of the Civil War, Reconstruction, Civil Rights struggles, and the waves of demographic changes on Washington and the nation. Presentations that compare D.C. to other urban centers are especially relevant and encouraged. However, submissions are not required to reflect the conference theme.

Complete information on making a submission for the conference can be found here or at the Conference website. We look forward to seeing everyone, either in the audience or making presentations, in November!


  1. I appreciate this awesome pic of the Mall and particularly the Washington City Canal. I've had a fascination with that Canal as a natural extension of my love of the C&O Canal. As someone who was born in DC, I share your fascination with the history. I collect every book and photo on DC I can find. The unlikely founding of this city and its challenging developmental history makes it that much more interesting. Pierre L'Enfant is one of my favorite heroes. Unlikely beginnings, struggle for artistic control and a tragic ending for him personally. The Washington City Canal... an open sewer, underfunded, barely functional, one of many blights in a godforsaken city. Fascinating, given the contrast with what the city has become. IMO, one of the greatest cities in the world.

  2. David,
    Washington DC does indeed, have rich history! I particularly love the 1870 view from the Capitol, too. There are very FEW pictures of the old canal.So, this is a treasure.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts