best cities for arts and culture

7 Interesting Facts About Washington DC

It’s the capital city of the United States, but how much do you really know about Washington DC? From an unused crypt under Capitol to a seriously old fish market, here are a few interesting facts about Washington DC we’ll wager you haven’t heard before.

Interesting facts about Washington DC

1. George Washington never lived in Washington DC

George Washington is the only president who has never lived in DC. He died before the White House was completed, though he did lay a cornerstone in October 1792.

John Adams was the first president to live in the White House.

However, George Washington did play an instrumental role in planning the city. In 1791, he selected 100 sq. miles of land in Maryland and Virginia to become the site of the country’s capital. But a little over 50 years later, 31 of these miles were returned to Virginia. This district, D.C., was named Columbia in honour of Christopher Columbus and the new federal city added to it was named after George Washington.

best cities for arts and culture

2. There’s no “J” Street in Washington

Washington DC uses letters for streets travelling from east to west. Lettered streets increase alphabetically as they increase in distance from north and south of the Mall and East Capitol Street. So why no “J” Street?

There’s a whole string of urban myths explaining it. Some say that Pierre L’Enfant, who designed the city, hated the new nation’s first chief justice, John Jay. Most likely, according to Historian Bob Arnebeck, in the 19th century typography was yet to be standardized and I and J were used interchangeably. He suspects using both would have been confusing.

interesting facts about Washington DC

3. It rains more in Washington DC than in Seattle

Seattle might be billed as the “Rain City”, but it actually rains more in the capital. DC averages around 39 inches of rainfall a year. That’s around twice as much as Seattle’s average.

interesting facts about Washington DC

4. Washington DC is home to the oldest fish market in the United States

The Maine Avenue Fish Market opened its doors in 1805 and has operated non-stop ever since, making it the oldest continuously functioning fish market in the country. The second-oldest, Fulton Fish Market in New York City, opened 17 years later. Most seafood sellers have been shilling shellfish here for generations.

These days, the market is open daily from 8:00-20:00 daily, except for Christmas Day.

Editorial credit: Jeff Ray / Shutterstock.com

5. Voting rights are relatively new to Washington DC

You might be surprised to hear that Washington DC’s residents only started voting in 1961. Until then they couldn’t vote in presidential elections because of the Electoral College. Each state gets a specific number of electoral votes depending on the number of senators and members of the House of Representatives. Since DC isn’t a state, it had no voting representatives.

In 1961, the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution adjusted this to give D.C. the electoral votes that it would have if it were a state. However, it’s still limited to the number of electors in the least-populated state, which is currently Wyoming, with three electors.

Interesting facts about Capitol Hill Washington DC

6. The Washington Memorial was once the tallest structure in the world

The Washington Memorial is one of the city’s most iconic monuments, but did you know that it was once the tallest structure in the world? It held the title for five years from 1884. The structure, which soars 555 feet high was usurped by the Eiffel Tower in 1889, which measures a whopping 984 feet.

Look closely, and you might notice that the bottom of the memorial is a different colour from the top.  During the building process, the Washington National Monument Society ran out of funding, so put the project on hold. The U.S. government picked up the mantle again 25 years later but used marble from a different quarry. Over the years, the stones have reacted differently to rain and erosion, which gives it the appearance of two different colours.

7. There’s a crypt under the White House

George Washington is buried at Mount Vernon with his family, but he was supposed to be buried in a crypt underneath the capital city. When he died in 1799, Congress thought it would be fitting to entomb him in the Capitol, even though he wanted to be buried at Mount Vernon. His wife Martha gave Congress permission to move him, and they set about plotting a new room for the tomb, known as the “Grand Vestibule”. However, Congress couldn’t agree on the memorial, so Washington’s body remained at Mount Vernon while they tried to settle on the details. These debates, combined with financial issues and the War of 1812, delayed the project. It wasn’t completed until 1824, a quarter of a century after his death. It’s an impressive spot too, featuring 40 Doric columns and more than a dozen statues.

The only president buried in Washington D.C. is Woodrow Wilson, who rests in the National Cathedral.

interesting facts about Washington DC
Editorial credit: Bill Perry / Shutterstock.com
Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

View stories