Saturday, March 15, 2014
Looking east across Dupont Circle in 1920. Not much has changed at all!
Washington, D.C., was founded in 1789. The L'Enfant Plan established the route of Massachusetts Avenue in the city, and called for the construction of a traffic circle named "Pacific Circle" where Dupont Circle is today. As originally constructed, Massachusetts Avenue NW went through the center of "Pacific Circle" and ended a short distance after passing Sheridan Circle until a bridge over Rock Creek was completed in 1904. Much of Massachusetts Avenue NW passed through marshy areas that restricted development, and this included the area around Dupont Circle. After the American Civil War, several large mansions were built around Dupont Circle as much of the area was still forested and afforded privacy.
In 1871, major development began around Dupont Circle. That year, a group of mine owners from the Western United States, led by Curtis J. Hillyer and Senator William Morris Stewart, purchased $600,000 worth of land around Dupont Circle. A large number of palatial residences were soon constructed on and around the circle.
In response to this politically influential group's demands, the city made major improvements to Massachusetts Avenue NW and to Connecticut Avenue NW. The traffic circle at the intersection of Massachusetts and Connecticut, enclosed by a rough wooden fence since the 1860s, saw significant renovation. The circle was landscaped, pedestrian paths laid, and drinking fountains and gas street lighting added. A statue commemorating U.S. Navy Admiral David G. Farragut was placed in the center of the traffic circle in 1881. That same year, Massachusetts Avenue NW was routed around the circle, graded, and paved. With the completion of Farragut Square in 1882, the statue was moved to its current location and the traffic circle was renamed Dupont Circle.
On February 25, 1882, Congress renamed the circle "Dupont Circle". A statue to Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont was erected in the circle in 1884. Du Pont family members thought the statue was not glorious enough. IT was moved to Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1917. The family agreed to commission Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French to design a new monument in the form of a fountain. Bacon (who designed the Lincoln Memorial) and French (who sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln that sits within it) created a two-tiered white marble fountain in which three three classical figures symbolizing the sea, the stars, and the wind raise up the second tier. The fountain was installed in 1920.
In 1949, traffic tunnels and an underground streetcar station were built under Dupont Circle to allow trams and vehicles traveling along Connecticut Avenue to more quickly pass the circle.