The District of Columbia (geography) reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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District of Columbia (geography)

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Apart from its role containing the capital city of the US, the District of Columbia, coterminus with Washington, can also be described by its own historical, municipal, and physical geographic characteristics, many of which aren't well documented. The term "Washington" is often used for the city including the parts in Maryland and Virginia, while there is still the notion of the District being a distinct entity separate from that city, as most residents refer to the area simply as "D.C.". The area is 159 sq. km (98.5 sq. miles).


The District of Columbia was authorized by Congress in 1790, after at least seven years of sometimes heated contention among states, as the permanent seat for the government of the new country. The new territory was to be made of land from the states of Virginia and Maryland. The United States was occasionally called Columbia during and after the time of the revolution, after Columbus, and the new district (originally called a territory) received that name rather than the more unwieldy District of the United States.

The choice of the exact site on the Potomac River was left to the first president, George Washington. He chose a 10-mile-(16 km)-square area that included the existing villages of Georgetown and Alexandria, and another called Hamburg in the Foggy Bottom area. A new city, eventually named Washington, was laid out in undeveloped area within the district.

The land from the State of Virginia was eventually returned to the state in 1846. This land in Virginia makes up the modern area of Arlington County and the old part of Alexandria, Virginia, both which are considered suburbs of Washington. In fact, the Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon complex are both located in Arlington but are largely tied to the federal government in Washington. Between 1790 and 1846, Alexandria was referred to as "Alexandria, D.C."

The Georgetown neighborhood was originally part of Maryland and was the only significant population in the area that would become the District of Columbia. Georgetown became part of the district in 1790 when the Federal City was first created, but Georgetown remained an independent city, referred to as "Georgetown, D.C.", until 1871, when it was annexed by Washington, completing the process of Washington and the District of Columbia occupying the same geographic borders.

The district has several distinct historic neighborhoods, which include Georgetown, Tenleytown, Capitol Hill, Anacostia, and Congress Heights. Out of these neighborhoods, Georgetown was originally an incorporated city of the State of Maryland.

The monumental core of the city consists of the National Mall and many key federal buildings, monuments, and museums, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the National Air and Space Museum. Its layout is based on that proposed by the McMillan Commission report in 1902.

Tenleytown is a historic name for a general area of northwest D.C. In 1790, the area was called Tennally's Town, named after resident John Tennally and his tavern. The area became known as Tenleytown in the 19th century, although the spelling Tennallytown was also in use for some time, as photographs of streetcars will attest. Tenleytown is the second oldest neighborhood in D.C., being surpassed in age only by Georgetown.

Anacostia makes up much of the southeast corner of the District south of the Anacostia River, which the area is named after. "Anacostia" comes from the Nanchotank Indian word anaquash, which means "village trading post". Frederick Douglass built his homestead in Anacostia and lived there until he died.

Physical Geography

The physical geography of the District of Columbia is very similar to the physical geography of much of Maryland. The District has three natural flowing bodies of water: the Potomac River, the Anacostia River, and Rock Creek. Both Anacostia River and Rock Creek are tributaries of the Potomac. There are also two man-made reservoirs: Dalecarlia Reservoir, which crosses over the northwest border of the District from Maryland, and McMillan Reservoir near Howard University.

The highest point in the District of Columbia is 410 feet (125 m) above sea level at Tenleytown. The lowest point is 1 foot, which occurs at least as far up the Potomac River as 0.35 miles (0.57 km) upstream from the terminus of Rock Creek.

Municipal Geography

The District of Columbia is divided into eight wards and 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) within these wards. The total number of named neighborhoods is 127.

District of Columbia wards map

Ward 1
Adams MorganMount Pleasant
Columbia HeightsPleasant Plains
Howard UniversityU Street/Cardozo
Kalorama Heights
Lanier Heights
Le Droit Park

Ward 2
Burleith/HillandaleMount Vernon Square
Dupont CircleShaw/Logan Circle
Foggy BottomChina Town
Fort McNairSouthwest-Waterfront
GeorgetownWest End

Ward 3
American University ParkMassachusetts Heights
Cathedral HeightsMcLean Gardens
Chevy Chase (not city in MD) North Cleveland Park
Cleveland ParkPalisades
Forest HillsPinehurst Circle
FoxhallSpring Valley
Friendship HeightsTenleytown
Glover ParkWesley Heights
HawthorneWoodley Park

Ward 4
Barnaby WoodsManor Park
Brightwood ParkQueens Chapel [1]
Colonial VillageRock Creek Gardens
CrestwoodShepherd Park
Fort Totten [1]Takoma
Lamond Riggs [1]

Ward 5
ArboretumIvy City
BloomingdaleLamond Riggs [2]
BrooklandMichigan Par
Carver LangstonNorth Michigan Park
EckingtonPleasant Hills
EdgewoodQueens Chapel [2]
Fort LincolnSouth Central
Fort Totten [2]Trinidad

Ward 6
Capitol HillSursum Corda
Kingman ParkStanton Park
Lincoln ParkUnion Station
Navy Yard

Ward 7
Benning HeightsHillbrook
Capital ViewKenilworth
DeanwoodLincoln Heights
Eastland GardensMahaning Heights
Fairfax VillageMarshall Heights
Fairmont HeightsNaylor Gardens
Fort Davis ParkPenn Branch
Fort Dupont ParkRandle Highlands
Good HopeRiver Terrace
Grant ParkSummit Park

Ward 8
AnacostiaGarfield Heights
Barry FarmKnox Hill
Buena VistaShipley Terrace
Congress HeightsWashington Highlands
Fair Lawn

External Links