Building Our Nation's Capital - Reading Comprehension
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Building Our Nation's Capital Reading Comprehension
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Building Our Nation's Capital
By Phyllis Naegeli
1 Washington, D.C. became our nation's capital after years of debate and arguing among the thirteen colonies. Each state wanted the capital city within their territory. In addition, the southern states were upset that it was located in New York City, a part of the north. They finally reached a compromise in January of 1790 and chose a plot of land along the Potomac River for the new capital. This triangular piece of land was located almost in the middle of the thirteen states. As a part of the compromise, the capital was moved from New York City to a temporary home in Philadelphia, which was more centrally located. The government would remain there for the next ten years while the capital city was built.
2 On July 17, 1790, President George Washington signed the act naming the land for the new capital into law. Washington was thrilled. It had been a dream of his to have the nation's capital built near the Potomac River, which he considered the "gateway to the west." At first, the city was called "Federal City." However, in 1791, the city was renamed Washington in honor of the president, while the surrounding land was named the District of Columbia.
3 Now, the job of building the city began. The raw, marshy land needed to be surveyed. Major Andrew Ellicott was asked to do this job. He hired Benjamin Banneker to assist him. Banneker, the son of a freed slave, attended school as a boy and was a self-taught mathematician and astronomer. For three months during the winter of 1790, he lived in a tent and studied the night sky through an instrument called a "zenith sector." Banneker gave the information to Ellicott to make calculations in surveying the ten-square mile city.
4 With Ellicott's survey, Pierre L'Enfant planned the city. L'Enfant was an artist with vision. He laid out a rectangular grid of streets intersected by grand avenues. He designed the Mall for the government buildings in the center of the city. He envisioned the Mall to be a park-like setting for the seat of our government. He placed the site for the Capitol Building on a hill – now called Capitol Hill – overlooking the Mall. However, his grand ideas carried a heavy price tag, and the building commission appointed by Congress began to balk at the plans. In February of 1792, the commission dismissed L'Enfant. However, his design was used to construct the city.
5 The same year, the government announced two contests. One called for a design for the Capitol Building, the other the president's house. The prize for the winner in each contest was five hundred dollars.
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