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200 years ago, Washington burned

Monday - 8/25/2014, 4:20am  ET

WASHINGTON -- Two hundred years ago Sunday, roads out of Washington, D.C., were clogged with wagons hauling household belongings, bank cash, even government documents.

Citizens of the capital city were on the run in the face of invading British forces. Along with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack and the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sunday marks one of the darkest days in United States history.

By the time darkness fell, the nation's capital was ablaze. The British burned the White House, Capitol, Library of Congress and other government buildings in the young city.

Americans put the torch to the Washington Navy Yard to prevent armaments from falling into enemy hands. Flames from the burning city were visible for miles.

In those chaotic days of the War of 1812, before the United States would chalk up battlefield victories in the fall and in early 1815 in New Orleans, President James Madison sought safe haven in the small Montgomery County town of Brookeville.

He spent two nights in northern Virginia, from where he watched the capital burn then wound up, for a night, in Brookeville along with cabinet members and other Washington refugees. They brought congressional documents and cash from Washington and Georgetown banks to escape the flames.

And this week, Brookeville will commemorate those extraordinary events.

On Saturday, the town that calls itself "U.S. Capital for a Day" will reenact Madison's arrival.

There will be other historic reenactments plus ceremonies, music, a period- military encampment, craft demonstrations, games for children and a Quaker style dinner at the Longwood Community Center.

On Aug. 30 and 31, weekend festivities in Brookeville will close portions of Route 97 and Market Street.

Shuttle buses will ferry visitors to town from the Glenmont Metro Station, Camp Bennett and Medstar Montgomery Medical Center's construction lot.

Find directions and event listings at uscapitalforaday.org.

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