‘Block by Block’ Tracks the Hidden Histories Behind the Street Names of Washington, DC

A new exhibition highlights the people behind some of the capital city’s roadways, plazas, and parks.

The city, which is shaped like a diamond, except where it meets the Potomac River on its southwest side, is organized by geographical divides centered on the U.S. Capitol and the White House, using mathematical principles employed by the original designer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. The streets that emanate from the Capitol building run in a grid pattern; avenues were placed on angles according to geometric divides. Two sets of streets running north-south are numbered, and two sets of streets running east-west are lettered. One set of numbered streets starts east of the Capitol, and the other to the west. The two sets of lettered streets begin north and south of the Capitol.

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