Washington DC Travel and Tourist Information
It was after the Civil War that Washington experienced the rapid growth that would continue for the rest of the century. Washington was inundated with freed blacks, army widows, retiring veterans and government workers forcing an expansion beyond the boundaries of the L'Enfant Plan. Instrumental in shaping the city and its expansion was Alexander Sheperd, who as a friend of President Grant's, became the head of the Board of Public Works in 1870. "Boss Sheperd" became the official governor of the territory in 1873, and began an extensive system of public works which would fill in the Tiber Canal, pave at least one-third of the streets, and create a modem sewer system and the construction of over 1000 buildings. These excessive expenditures, however, caused congress to abolish the territorial government.
In 1878, the Organic Act stripped the District of all self-government and put the District in the control of a Senate committee. Real estate speculation in undeveloped areas became rampant, and several of the biggest investors were Senators Francis Newlands, John Sherman, and William Morrie Stewart. In addition, the invention of the electricpowered streetcar made the development of Washington beyond Boundary Street possible. This led to the location of neighborhoods at higher elevations, which were perceived to be cooler and have cleaner air.
There are three geographic areas that define the suburban development of the city. The suburbs in Anacostia, southeast and northeast were created for lower income White and African American working classes. The northwest area east of Rock Creek Park was largely settled by middle-income and government workers The northwest area west of Rock Creek Park which was settled, in part, by upper-income Whites.
In southeast, Uniontown, one of Washington's first suburbs, was created for Navy Yard workers. Berry Farms and Congress Heights, south of Uniontown (now part of the Anacostia Historic District) were similarly settled. Most African Americans settled into the NE and SE quadrants of the city as housing costs rose and some areas became segregated.
The Northwest Sector of Washington east of the Rock Creek gorge, developed faster than the NE and Anacostia sections. Development in this area started in the 1870's and appealed to the burgeoning middle-class population. LeDroit Park, planned along 7th Street just north of Boundary, developed its own street system and names. Mt. Pleasant was first subdivided in 1865. The irregular street system, a grid of different block sizes, picked up the extended 13th and 14th Streets of the L'Enfant City. Columbia Heights, along 14" Street south of Mt Pleasant was platted and developed in the 1880s as the terminus of the new electric street car line running north-south on 14th St. In 1886, east of the Soldier's Home, 134 acres were subdivided as Brookland, and serviced by the B & O railroad. These neighborhoods are characterized by the ubiquitous row house, constructed of brick and usually three or four stories high. Further north along the B&O railroad line and at the Maryland border is Takoma Park, one of the first commuter suburbs utilizing the train. Here single family houses graced the yards in a more traditional suburban setting.
The development of the West Side of Rock Creek Park was driven by the formation of powerful real-estate syndicates which were in place by the 1880s. Prestigious and moneyed families were living in the Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle Districts. The Joel Barlow Kalorama estate just west of Dupont Circle was developed in the 1880s. Development beyond Rock Creek Gorge was possible only after the gorge was bridged in 1886 at Klingle Road and at Calvert Street in 1891. Woodley Park developed rapidly in the 1880s after the construction of the bridges as well as the streetcar lines
LeDroit Park Historic District
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
One of the best examples of suburban growth being spurred by street railway companies is the Rock Creek Railway, an integral part of the Chevy Chase Land Company's plan for development along Connecticut Avenue. The Rock Creek Railway Company had originally been chartered in 1888, but not constructed, until after the formation of the Chevy Chase Land Company. The Chevy Chase Land Company was founded in 1890 b Nevada Senators Francis Newlands and William M. Steward, together with Colonel George A. Ames. Having been involved previously in the development of the Dupont Circle area, Newlands began to purchase undeveloped land north of Rock Creek in the late 1880s. The Company's 1700 acres flanked the corridor now known as Connecticut Avenue extending into Chevy Chase, Maryland. Newlands constructed trestle bridges at Calvert and Klingle streets and extended Connecticut Avenue directly through his 1700 acre property into Maryland. Another street railway line was the Georgetown and Tenallytown Railway Company, chartered in 1888. In 1890, the railway began operating connecting Georgetown to the extant village of Tenallytown. The line traveled the length of what is now Wisconsin Avenue, stretching from the Potomac River to the Maryland State line. Cleveland Park was served by both street rail lines.
In 1888, Congress passed the Highway Act which forbid "any plat or subdivision that did not conform with the general plan for the city." The streets and avenues of the city were to be continued and exactly aligned with the existing roads, and new circles and squares were to be created at major intersections. There followed the Highway Acts of 1893 and 1898 to legislate conformance with the street patterns and platting.
The automobile led to an even greater growth especially in the northwest quadrant. Spring Valley, Wesley Heights, and American University Park were developed in the 1920s and largely constructed by the WC and AN Miller Company.
In the southwest quadrant, the urban renewal pressures of the 1950s and 1960s led to wholesale demolition of the existing fabric of the area and the construction of new housing.
Capitol Hill Historic District
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
Information provided by National Park Service