THE OTHER Washington - the one beyond Capitol Hill - also has a history of its own.
Several years ago the historian Kenneth R. Bowling observed: "Even granting the nationalness of its localness, one does not remain long in the national cpaital before realizing how unusually concerned its residents are with their local history; they maintain a sense of place long buried in most modern urban centers. In recent years this tradition has merged with the interests of a sizeable group of professional historians."
The most recent product of the merger, and one of the product of this splendid collection of more than 600 prints and photographs with accompanying captions and text, five years in the making, proposed as a Junior League project by Mrs. Douglas Woods Sprunt, assembled by 100 or so League volunteers and friends, written largely by Judith Waldrop Frank, and shaped into its final form by the editorial skills of Thomas Froncek.
One suspects that Froncek's work was on a scale of theat of Maxwell Perkins in carving out a Thomas Wolfe novel. An introductory note tell us the League collected some 200 pictures and its "manuscript filled tow huge suitcases and was carted to New York by some of our stronger co-workers."
The finished book is an organized balanced, and fascinating whole.
Abundant and discriminating use has been made of the extensive picture resources of the Library of Congress, the Columbia Historical Society, the National Archives, the Martin Luther King Library, the Peabody collection and many private holdings.
The arrangements is in seven chronological sections, from "The Patawomeck: Site for a City (before 1790)" to "Notes on the Modern City." Each section is divided into a number of subsections, not excluding "In Alexandria, D.C." The text if informative, succinct, and weighted with quotations from sources contemporary with the illustrations.
The first section opens with a full-page reproduction of a 1590 engraving of an Indian village. The next 40 pages record breifly the first European exploration of the area, present a number of early maps, touch on the grants to lords and other landowners, on the early tobacco trade, and the growing prosperity of the ports of Alexandria and Georgetown.
"The Nation's Capital (1790-1814)" documents in some 70 pages how successfully the leaders and the first citizens of the new nation met what Pierre Charles L'Enfant called "the opportunity offered them of deliberately deciding on the spot where their Capital City should be fixed" and carries the story through the "intellectual festival" of Jefferson's administration.
The third section, "A Mingling of Great and Small Concerns (1814-1860)," abundantly pictures life in antebellum Washington, and the fourth deals with "War and Reconstruction (1860-1875)."
"A Tour of the Capital (1880-1900)" shows the Washington of which Henry Adams wrote in 1877. "One of these days this will be a very great city if nothing happens to it." The modern city can be seen emerging in "Turn-of-the-Century City (c. 1890-1917.)"
There are dozens of imaginative and ingenious uses of pictorial material. For example, a background section from Charles Willson Peale's 1789 painting of Benjamin Stoddert's children is enlarged to present the earliest known view of the port of Georgetown.
There are more dozens of happy discoveries, even for knowledgeable aficionados of Washingtoniana, in the first publication here of privately owned pictures. Not since the "Privately Owned" exhibit organized by Katharine McCook Knox at the COrcoran in 1952 has anyone rummaged so rewardingly in local personal holdings.
The City of Washington: An Illustrated History is a book for browsing, handsome coffee-table book that will frequently and profitably be taken off the coffee table. It is well designed to stimulate rather than slake an interest in Washington's rich and varied local history.
Readers who find too little here on the long history of Washington's black communities may want to continue their reading with the excellent study Free Negroes in the District of Columbia: 1790-1846 by the late Letitia Woods Brown, with a number of essays in recent volumes of the Records of the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., with The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital by the late Constance McLaughlin Green, and with several lively chapters in David L. Lewis's District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History.
If The City of Washington: An Illustrated History seems at the end to be predominantly a record of the homes and the interests of the wealthy or the talented, the reason, I suppose, is that they have left the most records.