Judiciary Square in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Old City Hall
Civil War to Civil Rights
—Downtown Heritage Trail —
This imposing Greek Revival building was Washington’s first city hall, designed by George Hadfield and built between 1820 and 1850. It house the city court and an elected mayor and city council until 1871. Its prestigious high site overlooked Pennsylvania Avenue and bordered Judiciary Square, then as now, a hub of community life.
This building also stood witness to the end of slavery in the District of Columbia. President Lincoln had authorized up to $1 million to pay loyal D.C. slaveholders for their human property. A slave sale commission working here had the impossible task of putting a monetary value on human life. It was an experiment by Lincoln designed to solve the issue of slavery through compensated emancipation, that was carried out only in Washington, D.C.
The Lincoln statue at the entrance is the first public monument in the United States to the assassinated 16th president, paid for almost entirely by District residents who were appalled that he had been killed in their city. Designed by sculptor Lee Flannery, who had known Lincoln, it was dedicated in 1868 and was originally placed at the top of a 35 foot tall column.
Today the building is vacant, awaiting a new use by the city government.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Civil War to Civil Rights, and the National Historic Landmarks marker series.
Location. This marker has been replaced by another marker nearby. 38° 53.697′ N, 77° 1.058′ W. Marker is in Judiciary Square, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is on Indiana Avenue, NW, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is midway between 4th and 5th Streets, NW, on the sidewalk at the south entrance to the Old City Hall building which now contains the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Note that the building's main entrance is on its north side off E Street, NW.). Marker is at or near this postal address: 430 E Street, NW, Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this location. Sitting in Judgment (here, next to this marker); A Courthouse Reborn (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Building Out the Square (about 400 feet away); Senator Daniel Webster (about 400 feet away); Daniel Webster (about 500 feet away); DC Recorder of Deeds Building/WPA Era Murals (about 500 feet away); Albert Pike Monument (about 600 feet away); Washington City Spring (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Judiciary Square.
More about this marker.
top and above
The dome seen in this drawing of Old City Hall, top, was never built. The statue of Lincoln once stood atop a 35-foot column. (Library of Congress)
The slave house of J.W. Neal & Co. at Seventh Street and the National Mall, pictured here in 1835, was a center of the District slave trade.
(Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)
An inventory of African Americans held in slavery by D.C. resident Margaret Barber, 1862. (Library of Congress)
below and left
The Capital City Hotel at Third and Pennsylvania, formerly the St. Charles, catered to slave owners. Their African American slaves were confined below ground. (Washingtonian Division, D.C. Public Library.)
Regarding Old City Hall. This marker was replaced at the same location by a new marker titled "Sitting in Judgment." The new marker is number e.4, reflecting a change to the trail system.
Categories. • African Americans • Politics •
Credits. This page was last revised on August 15, 2017. This page originally submitted on August 18, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,486 times since then and 22 times this year. Last updated on April 10, 2010, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on August 18, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page.