The headquarters of the National Archives occupies what was once Market Space, the site of the city's first municipal markets. Construction of Center Market began here on Market Space in 1801 .It was a place where everyone shopped for food and other products. Inside the market, farmers and merchants rented stalls in which to sell their wares. Outside, many free and enslaved African Americans set up wagons and stands from which they sold their own produce and other goods. Center Market offered enslaved people a place to earn money with which to purchase their freedom and that of their family members. The sale of enslaved African Americans took place at hotels nearby until the slave trade was abolished in Washington in 1850.
In 1931 Center Market was demolished to build the National Archives, the main repository for U.S. Government records. The National Archives opened in 1935. It displays original documents including the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Records of the 1862 compensated emancipation in Washington, DC, are also filed here.
Helen Tangires, “Contested Space: The Life and Death of Center Market,” Washington History 7-1 (spring/summer 1995): 46-67
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