Historic Congressional Cemetery has been a final resting place for Washingtonians for over 207 years. In 1790 the ten mile square along the Potomac River was chosen for a new federal District and Pierre L’Enfant mapped out a city plan by 1792. Despite elaborate planning for the new capital, no provision for burial grounds was made on any of the various city maps of the 1790s. In 1798, the commissioners of Washington set aside two squares on the borders of the city-one meant to be the eastern burial ground and one the western. However, the eastern square was prone to flooding and was not a good choice for a cemetery. The residents of the eastern section of the city formed an association to secure a more suitable location. Most of the members of the association were also members of the Christ Church, Washington Parish vestry.
The association chose a 4.5-acre square between E and G Streets and Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets SE. The articles of subscription, filed on April 7, 1807, stipulated that the grounds were to be laid out in three-foot-by-eight-foot sites that would be offered for sale at $2 each. The proceeds would pay for the $200 cost of the square and for a post-and-rail fence to enclose the grounds. The articles denied burial to “infidels,” and persons of color could not be interred within the area enclosed by the fence, and the graveyard would be turned over to Christ Church as soon as it was debt-free. The last debt was paid in early March 1812, and the deed and plan of the graveyard were turned over to Christ Church on March 30, 1812, when it was officially named Washington Parish Burial Ground.