Ask just about any Washingtonian who planned the city, and they’ll know it was some French guy, or maybe they’ll even come up with his name, Pierre L’Enfant. But that wasn’t always the case– for years, Pierre L’Enfant never got credit for designing the city. So while we all know this ‘myth’ is true, for decades it was just that: a myth. Wondering how this all came to be? Read on for the sad story (spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending!).
Some of the myths about the city seem a little far-fetched, particularly the more historic ones about the layout of the city. Traffic circles meant to confuse invading armies? No J Street because Pierre L’Enfant held a grudge? Come on. Here’s another one I heard– there’s a system of forts on the outskirts of the District designed to protect the city from an invasion. This story, like the other two, has to be a myth, right? The only fort in the city I can think of is Fort Totten, which (as far as I know) is a Metro station and not some Civil War encampment, and I certainly can’t picture an entire ring of forts around the city. So this myth is pretty easily busted, right?
Not quite. It turns out to be true– there was an incredibly extensive network of forts that once surrounded the city, and today, many of these forts are again being linked together to create a greenway trail for recreational uses. The Fort Circle Park system was a surprise to me, and digging through the history of these parks turned up some other interesting facts.