The city of Washington was created to replace Philadelphia as the nation’s capital because of its geographical position in the center of the existing new republic. The states of Maryland and Virginia ceded land around the Potomac River to form the District of Columbia, and work began on Washington in 1791. French architect Charles L’Enfant designed the city’s radical layout, full of dozens of circles, crisscross avenues, and plentiful parks. In 1792, work began on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish-American architect James Hoban, whose White House design was influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James Gibbs’ Book of Architecture. In the next year, Benjamin Latrobe began construction on the other principal government building, the U.S. Capitol.
On June 3, 1800, President Adams moved to a temporary residence in the new capital as construction was completed on the executive mansion. On November 1, the president was welcomed into the White House. The next day, Adams wrote to his wife about their new home: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but wise men ever rule under this roof!” Soon after, Abigail Adams arrived at the White House, and on November 17 the U.S. Congress convened for the first time at the U.S. Capitol.
During the War of 1812, both buildings were set on fire in 1814 by British soldiers in retaliation for the burning of government buildings in Canada by U.S. troops. Although a torrential downpour saved the still uncompleted Capitol building, the White House was burned to the ground. The mansion was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged under the direction of James Hoban, who added east and west terraces to the main building along with a semicircular south portico and a colonnaded north portico. Work was completed on the White House in the 1820s and it has remained largely unchanged since.