Pierre Charles L'Enfant, artist, architect, and engineer is chiefly remembered for his 1791 plan for the new Federal City in the District of Columbia. Like most emigre architects of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, L'Enfant was attracted to Philadelphia, the cultural and political capital of the new nation. Born in Paris, the son of a painter who worked at the Gobelin tapestry factory, L'Enfant came to America in 1777 to serve with Washington during the Revolution. He endured the winter at Valley Forge, helped von Steuben drill troops, and prepared drawings for a new training manual; he was wounded at the siege of Savannah, captured and then exchanged by the British.
Back in Philadelphia by February, 1782, L'Enfant designed a temporary pavilion to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin, and the next year he designed the badge and certificate for the Order of Cincinnati. The following years were spent in New York--where he remodeled the old City Hall (1704, 1788-89; demolished 1812)--and in the District of Columbia working on the Washington City plan. Dismissed first by the District Commissioners and then by the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures in Paterson, NJ (where he was planning a water system), L'Enfant returned to Philadelphia in 1793 to design the ill-fated Robert Morris House (1794-96; demolished c. 1800). In 1794 he began plans to strenghthen Fort Mifflin in the Delaware River, and in 1798 he supervised construction of the Commandant's House at the fort, the design of which is generally attributed to him. In 1800 L'Enfant returned to Washington, where during the next quarter century a once-promising talent surrendered to Gallic haughtiness and bitter self-pity as other architects realized his plans for a capital city on the Potomac.
Roger W. Moss.
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