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What Separates Georgetown From the Rest of D.C.?

Georgetown's grid of small blocks is starkly different from the L'Enfant-designed city that surrounds it.
June 13, 2016, 6am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Daniel Lobo

The origins of Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood can be traced back to a Scottish man named Ninian Beall, who had the original grant for the land where the neighborhood would develop from a tobacco inspection station to a busy commercial port. Writing in Greater Greater Washington, Topher Mathews traces the history of the neighborhood to its eventual development into a grid comprised of small blocks.

The layout of Georgetown was a typical modest colonial town. The 80 lots were separated by only two streets and two narrow lanes. In the 1780s, several additions were annexed to the town.


While the physical structures hadn't filled in the street grid by the 1790s, Pierre L'Enfant nonetheless concluded that Georgetown was too developed with its own town plan to be incorporated into his Baroque plan for the city of Washington.

This design independence has survived to the present day as Georgetown lacks the circles and radials of the rest of downtown Washington.

Matthews notes that while Georgetown's original grid layout survived, many of its street names did not. As Washington, D.C. grew around it and eventually merged with it in 1872, many of the original street names were changed to match the D.C. street system.

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Published on Tuesday, June 7, 2016 in Greater Greater Washington
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