Monday, June 12, 2017

John P. Richardson's "Alexander Robey Shepherd"

John P. Richardson is a retired intelligence officer, Middle East specialist, and author of a previous study on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is an officer of two Washington area historical organizations and lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

Richardson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital summarizes the principal challenges faced by Alexander Shepherd in the decade after the Civil War when he assumed responsibility for a public works program that would create the basis for a true national capital. Washington, D.C. was the stepchild of Congress, which had constitutional control over the District of Columbia but little interest in how it should function and, above all, pay for itself. Shepherd had shaped and guided the legislation (1871) that created the Territory of the District of Columbia, but page 99 captures the obstacles facing his administration in launching the first-ever attempt to put flesh on the bones of the Pierre L’Enfant plan, still only lines on a map and reeling from the effects of the Civil War, which saw the city’s trees cut down, the dirt roads churned into mud and dust, and barracks and hospitals everywhere. The first challenge was the vast scale of the L’Enfant Plan, which allotted more than half the total land area of Washington to streets and boulevards. The second challenge was the hilly topography of the city, whose rudimentary streets dutifully followed the ups and downs. The third challenge was the lack of a comprehensive sewage system, with much of the waste dumped into the Washington canal, sloshing back and forth between Potomac River tides. Shepherd’s achievement in creating an elegant basis for the nation’s newly-discovered sense of itself was nothing less than miraculous. The fact that his methods created chaos and bankrupted the nation’s capital would be substantially forgiven by Congress and time, even though it triggered 100 years of direct congressional rule and led to Shepherd’s self-exile to remotest Mexico, where he built a modern silver-mining establishment and died in 1902.
Visit John P. Richardson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue