- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

“All the time I’ve lived here on the Hill ” going on 52 years ” I’ve never seen the original barracks,” says Capitol Hill resident David Aiken, who is peering at a photograph showing Marines in front of the old Marine Barracks, circa 1890. The original building was replaced by the present structure in 1908, and the old photo is part of a montage on a placard at the Eastern Market Metro station ” the first stop on the Barracks Row Heritage Trail.

Local historian Nancy Metzger, who helped plan the trail and is leading an informal walking tour, beams.

“It’s wonderful to see people discover things about their neighborhood they didn’t know before,” she says.

Helping people ” both locals and tourists ” discover the diverse culture and history of Washington neighborhoods is the mission of Cultural Tourism DC, which has developed four “off-the-Mall” tours to date ” Downtown, U Street, Barracks Row and Southwest Heritage ” and has several more in the works.

The Barracks Row Trail, introduced in December, consists of 16 historical markers in the area between Eastern Market and the Navy Yard. In a nod to the importance of these military establishments to the development of the area, the trail is titled “Tour of Duty.”

• • •

The military presence is still evident. Crew-cut Marines come jogging by, and if you’re lucky, you can hear the famous Marine Band rehearsing. On this leisurely one- to two-hour walk, you’ll also meet military personnel of the past. You’ll follow in the footsteps of John Philip Sousa, leader of the Marine Band and America’s first music superstar. You’ll see the Old Naval Hospital (Marker No. 4) and read the discharge papers of its first patient, a black American seaman named Benjamin Drummond, admitted in 1866 with a Civil War wound that wouldn’t heal.

You’ll also meet John Dahlgren, who invented the breakthrough bottlenose cannon and helped transform the Navy Yard (Marker No. 10) from a ship-repair facility into what once was the world’s largest munitions manufacturing plant.

George Washington dined out in the neighborhood. Thomas Jefferson toured it on horseback. Andrew Jackson journeyed up the hill from the White House to visit his friend William Ryland, chaplain of the Senate, who lived at 715 Eighth St. (Marker No. 6).

Trail walkers also will meet some of the ordinary people who sold the groceries, delivered the milk, ran the pubs, walked the police beats and gave texture to the neighborhood. People like the Tuckers, for example, who ran a corner grocery store at Seventh and D from 1903 until 1935, across the street from where a Metro stop now exists. The family lived upstairs, and descendants remained in residence after the store closed its doors.

“Ann and Norman Tucker lived there until last October, and they gave us some of the old photos,” Ms. Metzger says. “It’s wonderful to be able to get neighbors to open their photo albums and give us pictures we couldn’t get from the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian …There was no zoning. People could just open up a store and move in upstairs.”

The Haines Department Store, constructed in 1892 by the formidable Elizabeth Haines at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE (Marker No. 2), however, was no mom-and-pop establishment. The widow Haines advertised her business as “50 stores in one.”

On the placard, you can read her advertisement, touting her establishment as “the largest store in the world built, owned and controlled by a woman.” The shrewd businesswoman picked a busy intersection in a thickly populated neighborhood, a recipe for success.

Even a century earlier, the road that became Pennsylvania Avenue was a much traveled thoroughfare that led to a ferry across the Anacostia River. An earlier entrepreneur, Lewis DeBlois, opened a popular roadhouse and tavern, known as Tunnicliff’s, near this intersection in 1795. The tavern site at Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue now holds a gas station, but a watering hole of the same name thrives on Seventh Street SE.

• • •

A short walk from the Haines store leads you to Marker No. 3 at Eighth and E streets, where you can look at 511 Eighth, now a rehearsal hall for the Shakespeare Theatre but once the home and studio of music teacher John Esputa. An old photo shows Esputa with some of his students, including 11-year-old John Philip Sousa.

“Sousa started off with a violin,” Ms. Metzger says.

The son of a Bavarian immigrant mother and a Portuguese immigrant father who was a member of the Marine Band, Sousa was born in 1854 at 636 G St. and attended Christ Church (Marker No. 12), built in 1807 on the same block. Sousa actually spent much of his childhood in another house, at 502 Seventh St.

“People moved a lot in those days,” says Ms. Metzger, who has lived next door to the original Sousa residence for 30 years. In Sousa’s day, she explains, most people rented, rather than owned, their homes.

Apprenticed to the Marine Band at age 13, Sousa led the band from 1880 to 1892, then formed his own band and toured the world to great acclaim. His stirring marches, such as “Stars and Stripes Forever,” are still heard in just about every concert the Marine Band performs.

• • •

The Marines’ presence was, of course, more than ceremonial. They were placed here to defend the federal government. President Jefferson himself selected the site for the Marine Barracks (Marker No. 5), the oldest post in the corps, on what is now Eighth Street between G and I streets SE.

The Marines moved with the federal government from Philadelphia to Washington but had no permanent post until Jefferson, on a horseback tour of the new city in 1801, picked this site near the Navy Yard and within easy marching distance of the Capitol and the President’s House ” in case of trouble.

Trouble came calling shortly thereafter, when the British invaded Washington in 1814. Although they camped out in the courtyard between the Barracks and the elegant Commandant’s Quarters, the British spared both buildings.

Legend says that the British commander, having witnessed the valiant ” but losing ” battle put up by the Marines at Bladensburg, refrained from burning the complex out of soldierly respect.

• • •

Much of the land under the Barracks and the Navy Yard once belonged to William Prout, one of Washington’s first speculators. Prout arrived in the new United States from England in 1790 and heard rumors that George Washington would choose this area for the federal city.

He quickly bought up some 500 acres and sold or traded some of them to the government for the Capitol, the Navy Yard and the Marine Barracks. Prout’s home stood at the corner of Eighth and M streets, now occupied by “the blue castle,” formerly a car barn (Marker No. 8).

City designer Pierre L’Enfant earmarked the site of the Navy Yard (Marker No. 9) for a commercial trading center, but because of its deep water and abundant nearby timber, the government made it a shipbuilding facility.

Unlike the Marine Barracks, most of the original Navy Yard, established in 1799, did not survive the War of 1812 ” although its destruction cannot technically be blamed on the Brits. The Yard’s commandant, Capt. Thomas Tingey, had standing orders from President Madison to burn the facility and ships to keep them out of the control of the advancing British.

Michael Shiner, who worked at the Navy Yard as both a slave and a freeman for 52 years, wrote of the British advance in his diary:

“They looked like red flames of fire,” he wrote of the British soldiers. “All red coats and the stocks of their guns painted vermillion and ironwork shimmered like a Spanish dollar.”

After the fire, all that remained were Tingey’s house, the officers’ quarters and the original gate, designed by Capitol architect Benjamin Latrobe.

“After it burned, people came in and took things away,” Ms. Metzger says. “That’s why they built a wall around it.”

• • •

The Navy Yard was the neighborhood’s biggest employer (and a major employer in the city) from the early 1800s to the early 1960s, but the work changed with the needs of the military and the vicissitudes of nature. Shipbuilding activity here declined as the river silted up, and by the 1840s, the dominant activity was weapons production. The Navy Yard became known as “the gun factory.”

Some of the lowest-paid workers at the Navy Yard, along with other poor people, lived in a hidden H-shaped alley known as Navy Place at Seventh and I Streets SE (Marker No. 11).

Following an act of Congress, the tiny, crowded alley dwellings were razed in 1934 and replaced by a public housing project named for Ellen Wilson, the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson and an advocate of slum clearance. That complex eventually deteriorated and was replaced recently by a development of mixed market-rate and subsidized housing designed by architect Amy Weinstein in the style of turn-of-the-century Capitol Hill row houses.

“This is the third development on the site,” Ms. Metzger says.

The neighborhood still has a few inhabited alleys, including one called F Street Terrace (Marker No. 13), where the houses are anything but slums. In 1897, more than 100 people lived in 22 houses in this alley. Today, six homes remain, renovated and highly prized residences. The houses once coexisted with stables and workshops built by hardware merchant and lawyer Samuel A.H. Marks, who lived in the large house that still stands at 630 G Street.

About 1900, William Simpson bought Marks’ alley properties and used the stables for his dairy operation. Milk from Simpson’s Frederick County farm went by train to Union Station. Oxen stabled in the alley pulled the heavy milk cans up Capitol Hill, and horses, also stabled here, delivered bottled milk to neighborhood residents. You can see photographs of the oxen, from the family album of a Simpson descendant, on the placard.

• • •

Photographs from another family album ” that of Dorothy Owens Hawkins ” yielded some of the old photos of Marker No. 14, at Marion Park, named for Revolutionary War “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.

Dorothy Owens, who appears in one of the photographs as a little blond girl with a large hair ribbon, grew up beside the park in a house at 515 E St., next door to her grandfather, William, a policeman who worked out of the police precinct that still operates across the park.

In the 1920s, young Dorothy would take tables and chairs across the street to the park for tea parties under the trees. The church and parsonage that face the park were designed in 1883 by Calvin T.S. Brent ” the first black American architect to practice in Washington ” and were built by former slaves.

Half a block from the park stands Friendship House (Marker No. 15), built in 1795 as “The Maples” for Captain William Mayne Duncanson, a wealthy trader. Duncanson entertained lavishly. His ballroom, now demolished, was decorated by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi, whose frescoes adorn the Capitol.

Visitor George Washington called the Maples “a fine house in the woods.” By 1800, however, Duncanson was down and out, and the house stood vacant until it was used as a hospital during the 1814 Battle of Bladensburg.

After the war, Francis Scott Key restored the Maples and may have lived there for a time. In 1872, Emily Edson Briggs, who wrote a gossip column under the pen name Olivia and was the first woman to receive White House press credentials, purchased the property.

“We got a few women in,” Ms. Metzger says with a touch of pride.

Since 1936, the Maples ” stripped of most of its original outbuildings and grounds ” has served as Friendship House, a social services agency.

• • •

The tour ends at the bustling Eastern Market (Marker No. 16), built in 1873 and saved from closure by neighborhood protests. Inside the city’s last remaining 19th-century market, neighborhood residents of the past ” the Sousas or Esputas or Owenses, for example ” probably would feel pretty much at home among the greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers, some of whose families have run their stands for several generations.

As in the 19th century, the market is still a place where neighbors meet and chat. Near the placard, Ms. Metzger runs into Helen Au, who was born in the neighborhood 91 years ago and helped with source material for the tour.

Like the old market, the neighborhood remains much as it as it was in the past, Ms. Metzger says.

“It was never a predominantly wealthy community,” she explains. “It was working-class and middle-class. There was always a mix, a variety of people, and there were leaders of the city, like William Prout.”

Adds Kathryn S. Smith, founder and executive director of Cultural Tourism DC: “In all of our tours, local people do their own research. They tell us how their neighborhood has changed and how it’s remained the same. In every neighborhood, there are cycles of change, but there are unique qualities that are constant.

“We are trying to create new ways for visitors ” not just visitors from other cities, but visitors from other parts of D.C. and the metro area ” to discover our neighborhoods.”

Finding your way along Barracks Row trail

The self-guided Barracks Row Heritage Trail consists of 16 illustrated historical markers and takes one to two hours — longer if you stop to eat or shop at any of the myriad restaurants, stores and galleries in the neighborhood.

The tour begins near the top of the escalator at the Eastern Market stop on Metro’s Blue and Orange lines. Each placard includes a map to direct you to the next placard. You also can get illustrated booklets — handsome, glossy-paged guides crammed with even more information than is found on the placards.

The booklets are available at several shops in the neighborhood, at the Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard (use gate at 11th and O streets SE), at the DC Visitor Information Center in the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, at the Washingtoniana Division of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW, or direct from Cultural Tourism DC at www.CulturalTourismDC.org or 202/661-7581.

Here’s a bird’s-eye guide:

1. Edge of the Row:# Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE

2. At the Crossroads: Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE

3. Commerce and Continuity: Eighth and E streets SE

4. Healing the Wounded: Pennsylvania Avenue, Ninth and E streets SE

5. Oldest Post of the Corps: Ninth and G streets SE

6. A Neighborhood for Everyone: Eighth and G streets SE

7. Strike Up the Band: Eighth and I streets SE

8. William Prout, Community Builder: Eighth and L streets SE

9. Washington Navy Yard, Serving the Fleet: Eighth Street between L and M streets SE

10. Washington Navy Yard, Maker of Weapons: Eighth and M streets SE

11. Change and Renewal: Seventh and I streets SE

12. Christ Church and Its Parishioners: G Street at F Street Terrace SE

13. In the Alley: F Street Terrace SE

14. Life on the Park: Sixth and E streets SE

15. A Fine House in the Woods: South Carolina Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets SE

16. Meet You at the Market: Seventh Street across from C Street SE

Trail recalls old Southwest waterfront

The Barracks Row Trail, opened in December, is just one of several self-guided heritage trails developed by Cultural Tourism DC to illuminate Washington history beyond the Mall.

In January, the tourism group introduced one more, River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail, an homage to a section of the city just blocks from the site of the Washington Nationals’ planned new stadium, an area on the brink of major change. It’s a neighborhood whose story needs to be told before the signs of its history disappear.

Beneath the urban towers and concrete waterfront of Southwest Washington lies a rich and colorful past, which you can unearth on this 17-placard, one- to two-hour self-guided walking tour, which begins at the Waterfront/SEU station on Metro’s Green Line. (Alternatively, you can begin the tour at Marker No. 6 at Seventh and E Streets SW near the L’Enfant Plaza station on Metro’s Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green lines.)

In a sense, this is a trail of tears, a heart-wrenching chronicle of how well-meaning urban planners obliterated Washington’s main working waterfront community and replaced it with something verging on sterility.

True, by the 1930s, this vibrant community was overcrowded and run down, with substandard alley dwellings and all the trappings of poverty — including crime and disease. Reformers and the press decried the fact that such a place was allowed to exist “in the shadow of the Capitol.”

Accordingly, between 1954 and 1960, nearly all of old Southwest — 560 acres of buildings and trees — was bulldozed, and more than 23,000 people were displaced.

Fortunately, this vaunted “new town in the city” retains remnants of its old charm — some of which were spared by the renewers and some of which survived through the tenacity of local residents.

To her great credit, the late architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith included several Federal-era homes in the Harbour Square Development at Fourth and N streets SW (Marker No. 17). World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle once lived in one of these homes, Lewis House at 456 N St. SW. The Thomas Law House, built in 1794 by Law for his bride, a granddaughter of Martha Washington’s, also survives as a community center in the Tiber Island Cooperative Homes on Water Street SW (Marker 12).

St. Dominic’s, a Catholic church built in 1852 (Marker No. 6), is one of just six of the 34 houses of worship to withstand urban renewal, partly because of some influential friends in Congress. Actress Helen Hayes, born and raised in Southwest, sang in the church choir.

Also, the old fish market still stands at Maine Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets SW (Marker No. 9), although now the catch comes by truck rather than by boat.

In addition, urban renewal brought some landmark modernist architecture, including Arena Stage (Marker No. 2) and River Park (Marker No. 16), a high-rise and town-house community with an unusual aluminum motif.

Chronologically, the tour begins in 1791, when most of Southwest was a vast farm owned by Maryland planter Notley Young and worked by slaves. Washington remained a slaveholding city until the Civil War, but the city also was a stop on the Underground Railroad that assisted fugitive slaves.

The largest escape attempt took place on April 15, 1848, as 77 men and women sneaked aboard the schooner Pearl, docked at Seventh and Water streets SW (Marker No. 10). Its captain had agreed to sail them to freedom, but bad weather forced the Pearl to anchor before it reached the Chesapeake Bay. The ship was captured, and its fleeing passengers were brought back to the Seventh Street wharf and marched to jail in chains.

After the Civil War, many African Americans stayed in or migrated to the neighborhood. Around 1900, 4½ Street (Marker No. 3), now known as Fourth Street, was the dividing line between the largely black community to the east and the mainly Jewish, Irish and Italian neighborhood to the west. Members of these diverse groups came together on 4½ Street, one of Southwest’s main shopping areas, and there was considerable cross-cultural fertilization.

For example, Asa Yoelson, son of a Lithuanian-born rabbi who lived at 713 4½ Street (Marker No. 4), soaked up the black speech patterns and music that helped propel him to stardom as Al Jolson.

The street also was home to Schneider’s Hardware, owned by Goldie Schneider, who, with fellow store owner Max Morris, fought urban renewal all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against them in 1954, and the bulldozers moved in.

Free illustrated booklets on the Southwest Heritage Trail are available at the Southwest Library, 900 Wesley Place SW; Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW; at the Washington Marina, 1300 Maine Ave. SW; Odyssey Cruises, 600 Water St. SW; the DC Visitor Information Center in the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; the Washingtoniana Division, Martin Luther King Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW; or direct from Cultural Tourism DC at www.CulturalTourismDC.org or 202/661-7581.

Here’s a bird’s-eye guide:

1. Change on the Waterfront: Fourth and M streets SW

2. New Town in the City: Sixth and M streets SW

3. The Heyday of Four-and-a-Half Street: Fourth and I streets SW

4. A Mixing Bowl: Fourth between I and G streets SW

5. Renewal and Loss: Fourth and G streets SW

6. St. Dominic’s, Community Anchor: Seventh and E streets SW

7. Equality in Public Education: Seventh and G streets SW

8. Banneker Circle, Vista to the Past: Benjamin Banneker Circle, end of 10th Street Promenade SW

9. The Working Waterfront: Ninth and Water streets SW

10. Escape From Slavery: Seventh and Water streets SW

11. All Aboard: South Water Street SW, west-side entrance to Promenade

12. The Enduring Law House: South end of Water Street SW at turnaround

13. Military Education at Fort McNair: Fourth and P streets SW

14. Public Housing and the Syphax School: Third and P streets SW

15. Linking the “Island” to the City: Fourth and O streets SW

16. Recreation and River Park: N Street SW, cul-de-sac at River Park

17. Blending Old and New: Fourth and N streets SW

Follow the leader along waterfront

Washington Walks will offer a free guided tour of the Southwest waterfront on April 17 as part of a citywide “walking weekend” sponsored by Cultural Tourism DC. Here are details:

WHAT: Guided tour of the Southwest waterfront

WHEN: 2 p.m. April 17

WHERE: Meet outside Waterfront/SEU Metro station


INFORMATION: Washington Walks, 202/484-1565 or www.washingtonwalks.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide