In Stafford County, about 45 miles southwest of Capitol Hill is a 17-acre park that is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the site from which the stone was quarried to construct part of the Capitol and White House, as well as many other Virginian buildings in the early 1800s.
George Washington had been a nearby resident in Stafford County during his childhood and sent Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant to find the best supply of freestone, now called Aquia Creek sandstone, to build the new federal capital city. The site was originally called Wigginton’s Island or Brent’s Island, but after Major L’Enfant purchased it on December 2, 1791, the site became known as the Public Quarry and today, Government Island.
The government did not buy the entire peninsula, however. George Brent sold the government what land he owned, which was all of the area except for a one acre section that belonged to Robert Steuart. Mr. Steuart did not sell his land to the government, so he marked his boundaries with stones carved with his initials, still visible today.
The sandstone was quarried and shipped from Aquia Creek up the Potomac River to the new capitol city. It was used to construct the north section of the north wing of the Capitol building and the White House.
Other stone was found to be more durable and sandstone fell out of use by the mid-1800s. The government sold the quarry in 1963, but the physical evidence of stone cutting and the quarrying techniques remain on Government Island. Now it is a Stafford County Park where you can see the plants and wildlife, take a short hike, and view this historic place that built our capital.
In 2002, the 107th Congress recognized the “national historical significance” of the quarries on Government Island “for their substantial contribution to the construction of the new Capital of the United States.” You can read House Resolution 261, the House Report, and the Congressional Record on Congress.gov.