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Building Washington

, 384 pages

38 color illus., 83 b&w illus.

May 2018



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Usually ships 2-3 business days after receipt of order.

Building Washington

Engineering and Construction of the New Federal City, 1790−1840

Table of Contents

In 1790, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set out to build a new capital for the United States of America in just ten years. The area they selected on the banks of the Potomac River, a spot halfway between the northern and southern states, had few resources or inhabitants. Almost everything needed to build the federal city would have to be brought in, including materials, skilled workers, architects, and engineers. It was a daunting task, and these American Founding Fathers intended to do it without congressional appropriation.

Robert J. Kapsch’s beautifully illustrated book chronicles the early planning and construction of our nation’s capital. It shows how Washington, DC, was meant to be not only a government center but a great commercial hub for the receipt and transshipment of goods arriving through the Potomac Canal, then under construction. Picturesque plans would not be enough; the endeavor would require extensive engineering and the work of skilled builders.

By studying an extensive library of original documents—from cost estimates to worker time logs to layout plans—Kapsch has assembled a detailed account of the hurdles that complicated this massive project. While there have been many books on the architecture and planning of this iconic city, Building Washington explains the engineering and construction behind it.

Robert J. Kapsch is a researcher and principal of the Center for Historic Engineering and Architecture. He is the author of The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West, Historic Canals and Waterways of South Carolina, and Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania.

"This groundbreaking book skillfully traces the physical development of Washington during its earliest years. Robert Kapsch deftly examines a variety of archaic construction activities while also describing the human and financial difficulties that tormented the project from the start. These are rarely told and compelling stories."

"What makes a city? Its people? Its natural surroundings? The civic pride of its residents? Whatever it is, Building Washington, by the extraordinary historian Robert Kapsch, is monumental. This compendium is overwhelming. It reads like a historic novel, is impossible to put down, and is an education in itself."

"Encompassing the architecture, construction, and labor history of the city of Washington and its public buildings, bridges, and military defenses from 1790 to 1840, Building Washington is a richly researched and detailed account of these complex projects. Robert Kapsch brings new insights to the history of the city’s construction."

"Robert Kapsch hits another home run with his latest book. A masterful work, Building Washington is diligently researched and woven into a readable narrative documenting the difficulties in designing and constructing our nation's capital, something we easily take for granted. Kapsch's unique background as both an engineer and historian adds valuable insight as he traces the evolution of the architect-engineer in the early nineteenth century, documenting the three challenging building periods of a grand vision that has given us the iconic buildings and structures we know and cherish. As a DC native, I especially appreciate this book."

"Rich in period detail thanks to Kapsch's extensive use of original documents, drawings and illustrations, and cost data for context, Building Washington is a fascinating look at the creation of the seat of our democracy."

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