What L’Enfant Saw

Feb 25 2011

UMBC’s Imaging Research Center (IRC) is working to re-create Washington DC in its early years 1790-1820.  Remarkably little visual information remains from this time period.  What began as a simple effort to use 3D digital re-creation and display techniques has become full-scale research to uncover the original landscape.  In 1791, Pierre-Charles L’Enfant arrived in Georgetown Maryland with orders from President George Washington to lay out the new Federal City.  What did he actually see as he rode the land on horseback?  This is just one question that we are trying to answer.  This site is an on-going, open-source, work-in-progress. Enjoy and give us feedback.

Wrapping Up Young’s Plantation

Aug 22 2011

This post represents the conclusion of our pilot phase of visualizing Notley Young’s plantation in 1790.   If you are new to this site, you can follow our progress by reading back through the posts.  To immediately see our tests, you can start with this “then and now” panorama of the Plantation as seen from the Southeast Freeway Bridge.  Click the image or here.

Take full advantage of the mapping and linking that the host site, 360cities.net, offers for each panorama.  You can quickly see where you are standing and observe what direction you are looking.  There are a total of four panoramas, which are all interlinked.  There is an earlier post that describes each one in detail.  […]

1790 Young Plantation: View from Potomac Park

Aug 22 2011

This would be the view of the Plantation as a 1790 traveler came up the Potomac to Georgetown.  Currently the camera is on Ohio Drive in Potomac Park, but in 1790, it would have been on a boat in the river.   Notley Young’s Mansion has been described as “painted white,” “yellow brick,” and “red brick.”   In a computer simulation, changing the color of brick is fairly simple.  As consensus forms as to its color in 1790, we can easily correct it.

Our favorite part of the image is the reflection of a 1790 boat at Notley’s Wharf bouncing off ripples in the contemporary Potomac River.  Click the image or here to see the panorama.

1790 Young Plantation: View from Freeway Bridge

Aug 22 2011

Today the camera is on the SE Freeway Bridge, but in 1790 it would have been located at the top of trees surrounding one of Young’s graveyards.  (Note: all locations are approximate.  The graveyard, as indicated on a King Plat survey, may not be exactly on the sidewalk below, but it was probably within 120 feet).  This view begins to give a good sense as to how the plantation looked.  It also clearly shows how much earth has been moved over the years with the digging of the SE Freeway, the building up of Banneker Park, and the expansion of the shore line. Click the image or here to see the panorama.

Panorama Camera Locations

Aug 22 2011

This map is of Notley Young’s Plantation in 1794 overlaid and registered on top of a Google Street Map.  It shows the camera locations (magenta) where the contemporary panoramas were taken and where the virtual cameras were located to render out views of the 1790 Plantation.  Click the image or here to see a high resolution version of the map.  The plantation buildings are blue.


1790 Young Plantation: View from Banneker Park

Aug 22 2011

This combination of the two views is perhaps a bit over-dramatic, but it’s accurate.  Young’s mansion was on a bluff that sat approximately 25’ above the river.  Banneker Park is now much higher.  Currently, part of the mansion would be underground.  It is positioned correctly, but if anything, it could be even lower into the ground.  Click the image or here to see the panorama.  […]

1790 Young Plantation: View from 9th Street Bridge

Aug 22 2011

The 9th Street Bridge over the SE Freeway offers a possible view of the plantation as a traveler approached it.  This view again highlights how much earth has been moved over the years.  Click the image or here to see the panorama. Take full advantage of the mapping and linking that the host site, 360cities.net, offers for each panorama.  You can quickly see where you are standing and observe what direction you are looking.  There are a total of four panoramas.  There is an earlier post that describes each one. […]

1790 Young Plantation Model

Aug 22 2011

This is a rendered view of the model for the 1790 Notley Young Plantation that we used for our tests.  It is far from complete, but it’s a good representation of how the plantation may have looked.  More importantly, it provides a range of possibilities and challenges for how best to present this data in different venues.

This image also shows more detail of the southern end of the plantation where the slaves lived and many of the barns stood.   It is difficult to show this southern area in the “then and now” panoramas, because this area is now covered with large office, professional, and school buildings. Click the image or here for a high resolution image. […]

Just Two Centuries Later…

Jun 11 2011

SouthWest Freeway and 9th Street in Washington, DC

We were down in SW Washington DC at Benjamin Banneker Park and L’Enfant Plaza last week and positioned the camera where there would be a good contrast between 1790 and 2011 views.  The above one will hopefully work well.  The driveway and entrance to Notley Young’s mansion went diagonally directly across this area of the SouthWest Freeway at 9th Street, SW.  When we finish modeling this area as it may have appeared in 1790 , we will combine it with this contemporary image. This will build on some initial tests we showcased in an earlier post, Test 1: Young’s Plantation in Today’s Landscape. Should be fun.

Click here to see an image of Young’s Plantation overlaid on Google’s contemporary street map.

If you are new to this website and subject matter, reading some earlier posts about this particular effort will put this panorama and description into context. At the 360cities.net website that hosts the panorama (click the caption) you can bring up an accurate map of where the panorama is located and what direction you are looking (tab on left side of image).

A Classic Entrance to Young’s Plantation?

May 29 2011

We’ve been working on refining the layout to Notley Young’s Plantation and the two available King Plats are indicating that there may have been a classic straight tree-lined driveway up to the mansion.  The layout of the fences and the position of the “Coach House” are the strongest indicators.  We would like to move ahead with this type of layout.  If anyone can point us to additional information that this was not the case (or if it was) please let us know.

You can view the 2 King Plats here:  #1 and  #2

Click the above image to view a higher resolution image of our work-in-progress layout.

2nd Coffee Break at David Burnes’ Farmhouse

May 8 2011

David Burnes Cottage

David Burnes Cottage. Credit: DC Public Library Commons Flickr Site

To keep his sanity while helping to merge more than 300 square miles of polygonal terrain, IRC 3D Animator Phillip Thomas took breaks (though he doesn’t drink coffee) and modeled David Burnes’ house from 1790. David Burnes’ farmhouse sat at what is now 17th  and B Street, NW.  Much of Burnes’ pre-revolutionary war plantation became the National Mall, South White House Lawn and the Pan American Annex.  There are numerous photographs and drawings of his house, because it stood until 1894 when it was finally razed.  For example, the above photograph is of Burnes’ house, but the group is unidentified.   However,  these few photographs are the only information we have.  The King Plat that maps out his estate and buildings can not be located.  To see Thomas’ test model and more pictures of David Burnes’ farmhouse –>  […]

Notley Young’s Mansion…and Chapel?

Mar 12 2011

Detail: King Plat of Notely Young's Mansion, 1794

We’ve been working on modeling Notley Young’s Mansion.  There is very little information other than the footprint that appears on the 1794 King Plat (above), and a very small hand drawn image of the house on the John Frederick Augustus Priggs’ 1790 map (below).

Detail: Priggs' 1790 Map, George Washington University Collection

But neither of these images match the written descriptions of the mansion, nor do they show that a chapel may have been attached to the house. […]

Hammering on Young’s Plantation

Dec 19 2010

Slave Quarters with Clapboard Siding

After working on the 1790 terrain, IRC 3D Animator Phillip Thomas is finally getting to do what he does best: modeling. He is slowly hammering his way through the more than twenty buildings that make up Notley Young’s 1790 Plantation. The images here represent only the building’s geometry.  The textures that will be applied later to all the surfaces will make them look like weathered or new wood, shingles, bricks, stone, etc.

We are relying heavily on the research of John Michael Vlach, Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at George Washington University, to determine what each building may have looked like. Vlach’s more than ten books cover numerous topics in vernacular architecture, rural landscape, African Diaspora, and American decorative arts.

Are we making mistakes?  Check out all these draft images and let us know ->


Laying Out Notley Young’s Plantation

Sep 26 2010

Notley Young King Plat Detail

N. Young Plantation: Detail of King Plat showing area around the Mansion.

In the mid 1790s, after the new city had been surveyed and streets marked, the dwellings of all the original land owners were surveyed and located on the “King Plats.”  These early maps now provide the best information as to where buildings were located, but, unfortunately, the maps only give the barest of details for re-creating the landscape.  The above detail from the King Plat for Notley Young’s Plantation is an example of what is typically plotted: building location, its size, and construction material.  Note that the existing roads and driveways are not marked, only where the new streets will eventually be located.


Start Date 1790. Make It So.

Aug 21 2010

We’ve selected to re-create Notley Young’s Plantation circa 1790 as a pilot. Above are the more than twenty buildings (in blue) that make up its estate overlaid on top of a contemporary Google street map of SW Washington. The fact that the many of buildings’ positions currently lie in an open space (Benjamin Banneker Park) provides us with the ability to easily test “then and now” methods of display. […]

Geometry and The Perfect Quad

Jul 5 2010

The last three months saw one of those painful and critical steps that few speak or care about: converting the elevation data to a 3D polygonal mesh that can be used in animations and real-time simulations.  We wanted to do it once and right, and assure that the final mesh could be easily used in any type of application.   The above image is the mesh created from the converted data. It is a view from Washington in 1790 looking NW across Roosevelt Island past Georgetown to the Great Falls and beyond.  For clarity, the mesh of the Potomac River is colored blue.   […]

Polished 1790 carat Diamond

May 2 2010

Virginia is attached!  Need we say more?  We’d like to think that this is the most accurate and complete topographical map of the District of Columbia in 1790 that exists.

It’s interesting to note that this map represents decades of work by the historical cartographer Donald Hawkins, years of work by Peter Chirico’s USGS group, and ten months for GIS Specialist, Lindsay Schroader, at the Imaging Research Center, UMBC.

Dan Bailey and Lindsay Schroader have prepared an article that presents the entire technical and scholarly process of creating the map.  You can download an electronic PDF copy: Visualizing Early Washington DC. This article appears in the The Portolan, journal of the Washington Map Society, Issue 80-Spring 2011, pages 33-41.

“Then and Now” Techniques, Part II

Mar 28 2010

In 1813, the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe did a quick sketch of the US Capitol being built. We used this sketch as a test to see how non-photorealistic rendering styles (a technical term meaning painterly or illustrative) could work to visualize the early city of Washington DC.  The first impulse for doing re-creations is to make them look photo-realistic.  It can be argued, however, that presenting the past in an illustrative style better conveys the uncertainties of re-creation.   The animation test is included here. […]

Diamond In the Rough

Jan 15 2010

After months of working, Lindsay Schroader has completed a 1790 version of the District of Columbia, but it doesn’t include the section of Virginia that originally was included in the District.

It’s a diamond in the rough with a chunk out of the lower left.


“Then and Now” Techniques, Part I

Nov 14 2009

A major challenge to any historical re-creation is the “So what?” or “Why should I care?” test. Part of the success of this effort to re-create early Washington will rely on how to make historical findings compelling and interesting to the public.  In a conversation with Scott Berg, author of a book on Pierre L’Enfant, he pointed out that a large portion of US citizens don’t even know what Washington looks like now. Why would they be interested in seeing the landscape 200 years ago?   These are good questions and material for another post, but this post is to look at “Then and Now” techniques.


Back to the Basics: a Solid Foundation

Sep 10 2009

To illustrate the architectural work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the visualization of Washington originally centered on the US Capitol in the early 1800s.  In spite of productive research work on this location and time period, we learned how little information was available and the great interest that existed in our effort.  It is now clear that we should go back to the beginning, start over, and create a solid GIS data foundation of the entire 1790 District of Columbia that can present any type of information: terrain, land cover, land use, buildings, roads, etc. […]