Washington, D.C., has no 'J' Street because city designer Pierre L'Enfant bore a grudge against Chief Justice John Jay.
Collected via Washington Post, 1979
Our natural tendencies drive us to find order in randomness, to make sense of the nonsensical, to seek an explanation for the inexplicable … even if we have to make stuff up to achieve that satisfaction. One of the conundrums that has puzzled our orderly American minds for hundreds of years is why the neatly laid out grid of numbered and lettered streets of our nation’s capital is lacking a
After the fledgling United States of America replaced the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution in 1788 to create a stronger federal government and “form a more perfect union,” one of the tasks that befell its First Federal Congress and its first President, George Washington, was to create the national capital called for in
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.
The new nation was to have a new capital, built from the ground up, and the first order of business was deciding where to put it. The final choice in 1790 of a site on the Potomac River (its location between the slave states of Maryland and Virginia a tacit promise that the federal government would accept the institution of slavery) was the product of many years of political wrangling that began well before the adoption of the Constitution and the first in a series of political compromises between the commercial North and the agrarian South. (Seventy years later, unwilling to compromise any further, the two regions would engage in a four-year-long civil war.)
The task of designing, laying out, and building a national capital from scratch was a daunting one, and President Washington’s first and only choice for the job was Pierre
Who could have been this
Why would L’Enfant bear such ill will towards John Jay? The reason usually proffered is that
Unfortunately, this intriguing theory falls apart when the chronology of events is considered:
Did L’Enfant perhaps have other reasons for disliking John Jay (such as Jay’s alleged disapproval of L’Enfant’s design), or could he have borne ill will towards someone else whose name began with the letter ‘J’ (such as Thomas Jefferson)? Possibly, but
So, what did happen to J Street? Was it merely skipped over by accident?
The disappointingly mundane explanation is that
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