Cover image for Through a fiery trial : building Washington, 1790-1800
Through a fiery trial : building Washington, 1790-1800
Arnebeck, Bob.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lanham : Madison Books : Distributed by National Book Network, [1991]

Physical Description:
xiv, 701 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library F197 .A76 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A history of the building of America's capital city through the dreams of French designer Pierre L'Enfant and the efforts of numerous workers.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For its civic founder, Rome can claim an Aeneas, Istanbul a Constantine, Leningrad a Peter the Great. But Washington? That city must seek the grandeur of its birth in the doings of political deal makers and real estate speculators. D.C. is where it is for the epic reason that Northerners, who wanted the new government to assume the debts of the states, struck a bargain with Southerners, whose price for agreement was siting of the capital in their section of the country. With the location settled, boom-and-bust fluctuations on the price of lots within the city ensued because sales of the lots served as the mechanism to finance the construction of public buildings. In the blow-by-blow details of that process lies whatever drama raising a city out of a miasmic swamp had. Arnebeck deeply plumbed the archives for his story, and he parades it with copious quotations redolent of the formal verbosity typical of the period. His accent is on the antiquarian and his work best found in regional collections. ~--Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

To judge from this colorful, hugely entertaining, irreverent history, it's a wonder Washington, D.C., got built at all. George Washington welcomed Congress's decision to move from Philadelphia to the Potomac, but just before his death in 1799, the first president vented his spleen at nine years of inept financing, lawsuits, builders' inflated costs, real estate sharks' greed and other roadblocks that impeded the capital's develoment. Obstinate French architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant jockeyed for total control of the city's construction, spreading confusion in his wake. His successor, Samuel Blodget, an ingratiating Bostonian, frittered away seven years trying to salvage a $350,000 lottery he organized to finance an unfinished hotel. Land speculator Thomas Jefferson, charmed by the capital's rural character, cultivated more botanists than he did investors in the city. Arnebeck ( Proust's Last Beer: A History of Curious Demises ) draws on reams of previously untapped archival material for this exhaustive year-by-year chronicle. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Arnebeck offers the first full-length history of the establishment of the national capital in Washington, D.C. After outlining the machinations involved in selecting a site, the author painstakingly details the progress in building the capital, recounting one year of activity per chapter from 1791 to 1801. In the process, he describes the roles of James Madison, architect Pierre L'Enfant, speculators Samuel Blodget and James Greenleaf, and Washington himself. Arnebeck provides a readable, meticulously researched narrative which intends to chronicle the course of events rather than explain and interpret them. This very detailed work is recommended for interested (and informed) history fans.-- David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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