Alexander Robey Shepherd and the Making of Modern Washington. Cover detail

Alexander Shepherd and the Making of Modern Washington

November 7, 2016

On Monday, November 7, John P. Richardson presented a lecture on Alexander Shepherd, based on his new biography about Washington’s territorial governor (1873-74). He used photographs that graphically illustrated the impact of road-building and other infrastructure projects on post-Civil War Washington, which had been left largely without trees or paved streets after the conflict. One slide showed the c. 1800 mansion Duddington (sited near 2nd and E Streets, SE) perched at least 25’ above a newly cut road – an example of one of the consequences of regrading hilly streets.

Although the governor was sometimes referred to as “Boss” Shepherd, Richardson maintained that, based on his research, Shepherd was neither a “Boss” in the political sense of the term nor corrupt, although there were about $12 million in cost overruns by the end of his term, and much of the work was slipshod due to haste. However, Richardson credits Shepherd with having put “flesh on the bones of L’Enfant’s plans” and with helping force Congress to accept its responsibility for maintenance of the city.

Richardson became interested in Shepherd when he lived in DC’s Shepherd Park neighborhood, just a short distance from the site of Shepherd’s summer home, Bleak House. He is a retired intelligence officer and a Middle East expert.

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