In 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. 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. The canal was removed in 1872.
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-wide greensward bordered on each side by four rows of American elm trees and lined by public buildings. In 1909 the railroad tracks were taken out, restoring the continuity of the grounds.