In the mid-eighteenth century, public markets in Piscataway, Bladensburg, and Georgetown, in Maryland, and in Alexandria, Virginia served both shoppers and vendors in the area which was soon to become the District of Columbia. No markets were planned for inside the limits of the Federal City when it was laid out in 1790. However, markets were such an essential piece of urban life that Thomas Jefferson included public markets in his list of necessities to be incorporated into the making of the new Capital City. Pierre L'Enfant, in his June 22, 1791, report to George Washington, proposed an arrangement of waterways which would allow foodstuffs to be supplied by boat to the city's markets.
After six years, in 1797, the President himself assigned parcels of land to be put aside for three open markets: Center Market, Western Market, and Eastern Branch Market. (Public Markets were located in permanent structures and open year-round as opposed to Farmers' Markets that could be seasonal and located outside.)
These market destinations were population-specific; that is, the markets' locations reflected the early patterns in the city's population density. The city of Washington did not have a real farmers market until the Center Market was built in 1801. Center Market was located on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., now the site of the National Archives. Initially, Center Market consisted of a series of wooden sheds with shingled rooftops, surely not a promising start to a monumental city and not comparable to the brick market in Alexandria. Nevertheless, in 1813, Center Market was noted as the best in the city, by the "National Intelligencer" newspaper. In 1802, the construction of Western Market was completed. Situated near Washington Circle, N.W., Western Market served the city's population between the President's Mansion and the city's western limit, Rock Creek. New Jersey Avenue Market opened in 1806 and operated for a short period of time; the Eastern Branch Market followed in 1806; and a market on East Capitol Street, known as the Capitol Hill Market, was opened in 1813. Eastern Branch Market is of significant importance to present-day Eastern Market, because it is Eastern Market's immediate predecessor.