In Major Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 Plan for the Capital City, The National Mall was to be a 400-foot wide, mile-long avenue, anchored by the Congress House on the east and a statue of George Washington on the west. An east-west canal, built in 1820 on the north side of the Mall, connected Tiber Creek to the Potomac River.
Railroad tracks were laid across the eastern section of the Mall in the 1840s, severing the Capitol Grounds from the rest of the monumental space. In 1851, President Fillmore, concerned about the condition of the Mall, commissioned Andrew Jackson Downing to design a public park for the Mall. Downing’s design, never fully executed, combined naturalistic gardens with a museum of trees and shrubs. During the Civil War, the Mall grounds were used for military activities. In 1872, the canal was removed.
In 1902, the Senate Park Commission submitted a plan to Congress calling for the restoration, development, and improvement of the Mall. The Commission, led by architects Daniel Burnham and Charles McKim, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, proposed a narrower, 300-foot greensward bordered on each side by four rows of American elm trees and lined by public buildings. In 1909 the railroad tracks were removed, as proposed, restoring the continuity of the grounds.