Pierre L’Enfant, although he was French, could have been an American hero in his own time. As things turned out, it took more than a century for the United States to officially recognize his unique contribution to our country, and it was all because he lost his temper when he was laying out the plans for Washington, D.C.
L’Enfant was born in Paris and came to America in 1777 with Lafayette to fight with us against the British in the Revolutionary War. He was wounded in the Siege of Savannah, and after his recovery he served on Gen. George Washington’s staff as a Captain of Engineers.
After the war, L’Enfant enhanced his reputation as an engineer by redesigning New York’s City Hall into the first Federal Building in which the United States Congress met. Then in 1791, his old boss, President Washington, appointed him to design the nation’s new capital city on the banks of the Potomac River, and that’s where the trouble began.
As L’Enfant went to work, he included a glorious national mall in his plans for Washington, D.C. It was to be the foremost boulevard of the city, and Pierre called it the “Grand Avenue,” but therein lay a problem...