Columnist

Iattended the Logan Circle Civic Association’s wonderful Holiday Homes Tour in 2009. I’m from Iowa, and I understand that originally Logan Circle was called Iowa Circle. How did it first come to be called Iowa Circle? There also is a lovely building near Logan Circle with the name IOWA above the front entrance. What was this? Also, there are Heritage Trail walking tours of such neighborhoods as Dupont Circle, Shaw/U Street and Adams Morgan, but none for Logan Circle. Why?

— Mary Kay Kramer, Annandale

This week’s question first entered the Answer Man machinery back in 2009. At the time, he deemed it unanswerable. Oh, parts of it were answerable: The Iowa is an apartment building (now condos) at 1325 13th St. NW designed by Thomas Franklin Schneider and built in 1901. It was no doubt named after the nearby circle.

And the reason there was not a Logan Circle Heritage Trail is that there wasn’t money to do one. But the Logan Circle Community Association recently raised funds to start the process, and CulturalTourism DC’s Mara Cherkasky is hard at work. Look for the walking tour to start in about a year.

But the most perplexing part of Mary Kay’s question, and the reason Answer Man shelved it for so long, was this: Why was Logan Circle originally called Iowa Circle?

The reason seemed lost in the mists of time until an unnamed researcher in the House of Representatives’ Office of the Historian found a fascinating exchange in the Congressional Record of May 24, 1930. Congress was being asked to authorize changing the name of Iowa Circle to Logan Circle.

C. William Ramseyer, a Republican from the Hawkeye State’s 6th District, objected: “Is it an honor to the State of Iowa to now change the name of Iowa Circle to something else, when the circle was named after the State of Iowa?”

But Ramseyer wasn’t sure why it had been named after Iowa in the first place. Then his colleague Cyrenus Cole spoke up. As far as Rep. Cole could tell, the circle had been named at the behest of William B. Allison, who represented Iowa in the Senate from 1873 to 1908. Sen. Allison apparently wanted the circle to honor Gen. Grenville Dodge, an Iowan who led volunteers in the Civil War and represented the state in the House of Representatives.

But there was a problem: Dodge kept not dying. He didn’t pass away until 1916, at the age of 84.

As Cole explained, according to the transcript: “Gen. Dodge did not die in time, and so he could not be given that honor. [Laughter.] So the statue to Gen. Logan was placed in that circle.”

That would be John A. Logan, Union general during the Civil War and representative from Illinois. His equestrian statue was dedicated in 1901.

There was some grousing on the part of the Iowa delegation, but the measure passed. (It wasn’t the first circular switcheroo: Dupont Circle started out as Pacific Circle. Its name was changed in 1894 to honor Civil War hero Adm. Samuel F. Du Pont.)

Traffic circles are a well-known feature of Washington. Scott W. Berg, George Mason professor and author of “Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C.,” said the man responsible for them, Pierre L’Enfant, didn’t think of the roundabouts the way we think of them now.

First of all, of course, L’Enfant didn’t envision the automobile. Nor did he make any distinction between circles and the building-free parts of his design that were square, rectangular or triangular.

To him, all these bits of geometry were places in the French sense of the word: areas where people would gather.

That’s certainly the case with Dupont Circle and Lincoln Park, but not so much with Thomas Circle and Washington Circle.

L’Enfant had another notion: Each state would be given a circle to develop.

This would ensure interesting development as states competed to outdo one another. Said Scott: “These would become neighborhoods — back then, he called them villages — and the city would be radiating outward from all of the neighborhoods, rather than from one federal place.”

This idea was never put in practice.

Finally, Scott said, there is no secret Masonic message embedded in L’Enfant’s design. And it’s a myth that L’Enfant intended Washington’s circles to be places where artillery could be positioned, so troubled was he by the anarchy of the French Revolution.

Still, Answer Man finds it easy to imagine Iowa sending in its militia in 1930 to protect its circle.