Portrait of Anacostia in 1908

Last week, I posted a lighthearted report on Georgetown as it was in 1908.  The article was the first in a series originally published in the Washington Times. Today I’m re-posting the second article in the, which portrays Anacostia.

Anacostia Ground bannerAnacostia article 1908

Wouldn’t It Make You Peevish to Have Street Names Changed in a Night?


Solons Go Ahead and Fix Up Nomenclature So None But Wise Man Knows the Way Home.


ANACOSTIA has a grouch; a well-formed, healthy, loud-voiced, reaised-on-breakfast-food, always-with-us grouch.

Fact is, something like this has ailed the burg for some time, but only recently did the pain become so acute as to permit of definite diagnosis. Now the ailment has been called by its first name, everybody in Anacostia knows about it and everybody else will agree that a grouch is a most handy thing to have about the house – when you’ve been treated like Anacostia has.

For instance, how would you feel if you owned a town and had named the streets for all the Presidents (as long as the streets lasted), from Washington to Grant, and had gotten used to them, and knew just how to go home in the dark; I say, how would you feel if a bunch of unsympathetic men called Congress and another lot called the Commissioners, none of whom ever took a trolley and came over your way, should suddenly decide that you had no right to your street names, anyway, and forthwith changed them?

Wouldn’t it make you peevish, wouldn’t you give an occasional intimation of a dyspeptic and wouldn’t you want to fight something, if nothing more than an Eastern branch mosquito?


Most likely you would, unless you lived at the Home for the Aged and didn’t give a cuss for civic matters anyway.

Well, that, together with a number of other things, is the latest to happen to Anacostia. Since the memory of the oldest inhabitant runneth not to the contrary, Anacostia has prided itself on its high sounding street names. George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, all of them were there.

When you told the grocery man to deliver a pound of butter at 41144 Washington Street, the delivery boy sang a verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” repeated to himself the story of the cherry tree, and the butter was forthwith brought to the back door. Same way with the physician, the mail carrier, the ardent swain, the cop and the real estate man. Everybody knew where everybody else lived and how to get there, and, consequently there was much visiting and all were happy.

Just a short time ago, after declining to reclaim the Anacostia flats, after refusing to establish a city dump, after neglecting to build a new police station, to provide more paved streets and electric lights, to better the car service, to do anything in fact that Anacostia wanted. Congress decided to go foraging after dignified street names.


“Ah, ha!” said Congress, “here’s a bunch of high-sounding statesmanlike names in use out there at Anacostia. Whit if they have been doing business for about sixty years and are a little shop-worn. We’ll transfer them over to Mt. Pleasant, our thriving fashionable suburb, and send a bunch of letters and figures over Anacostia way to be distributed wherever there’s and empty ‘space.’”

Following which ukase, a benevolent ladder climber from the District building came over and tore down William Henry Harrison, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, and a few others, and decorated the lamp posts 13, 17, W, X, Y, Z or any other old letter he drew out of the bag.

Which painful process made Anacostia “southeast” and spread the germ of discontent that later developed a certain grouch aforementioned. Now father has lost track of son, swain of sweetheart, milkman of customer and real estate man of his “surest thing you know,” while consternation and discontent hangs as heavy upon the oldest inhabitant as the proverbial Anacostia flats fog.

Still, notwithstanding the fact that Congress and the Commissioners, ‘tis said, have an entertaining habit of doing the highland fling upon the prostrate form of Anacostia. I found a pretty Cheerful lot of people there. Some day when the balance of the District is paved with gold and other people grow real lonely because there’s nothing else to ask for, Anacostia expects to get what’s coming to her.


Until then her leading citizens will continue to kick through the Citizens’ Association, which still holds regular meetings, and which has the reputation of having asked for more things without obtaining them than a member of the House Committee on Ventilation and Acoustics.

“We just ain’t gong to pay attention to this new-fangled street numbering business,” said Uncle George Wood, who vied with other Anacostians in being indignant.

“The young fellows can learn the streets under the new rule, if they’re a mind ter; we old fellows know how to go home according to the old names, and by gum, that’s the way we’re going.”

“How long have you lived here. Mr. Wood?” I asked.

“Wal, I’ve been hereabouts seventy-seven years; yet they say this is an unhealthy place. What’s more, I’ve been painting houses for about sixty-five years, and they sat that’s an awful unhealthy business. If I was to move to one of these real healthy places, as they call e’m, I might make old Methuselah turn over in his grave.”


Mr. Wood has just celebrated his golden wedding. He says there’s no telling what the world is coming to when people try to turn the world upside down by changing the names of Anacostia streets.

“Mayor” Julius Tolson, so-called because he was accustomed to call mass meetings in the old days and protest against the things, has about given up hope of getting relief from conditions. The “mayor” has tried the Citizens’ Association, he says, but somehow there’s a lot of talk and much indignation wasted, while things remain about the same. The “mayor” has been on the job some thirty-five years and regrets to report that things are about as hopeless now as they ever were.

There’s Policeman Ligon B. Anderson, of ex-Monroe street, eighty-three years old, forty-seven years on the police force, and owner of badge No. 1. He’s the only survivor of the 170 men sworn in away back in 1861, when the metropolitan police force didn’t stand out in such bold letters. Mr. Anderson used to live on the corner of Taylor and Monroe streets. He’s an “ex” now, however, as the new arrangement sets him down at the corner of Sixteenth and W, a condition not at all relished by the veteran.


“I used to have a garden over the lower part of Anacostia,” he said. “No, I don’t like this new street business. They oughter let us alone. Nobody can find their way now.”

Mr. Anderson says he was a mounted officer in Anacostia for twenty-five years, and rode a horse thirty-five years old. He doesn’t think the place is at all unhealthy.

Harry Anderson, grandson of the policeman, was bemoaning the difficulty he had in finding the homes of his relatives when we came upon him. Harold was a real sociable chap, with a wealth of sunburn, sunset-hued hair, and a few freckles that added to his attractiveness. He says it’s awful that a young man should reach his age and then have to take up time learning the streets anew.

I came upon Col. John Brazerll as he leaned aimlessly against a friendly doorpost. Mr. Brazeril, after forty-two years as a cabinet maker at the insane asylum, has retired. He, too, is seventy-seven years old, and refutes any suggestion that longevity is not a stock in trade with almost any Anacostian. Mr. Brazeril remembers when, as a boy, he used to gaze upon those dear Alps from his Switzerland home and repeat, “Over the Alps lies Italy.”

That’s been some time ago, though, as he wandered over this way in 1858.

“Sure, I’ve been about crazy folks for forty-two years, and have got some sense left yet,” he said, as a parting shot.


I didn’t get to see Dr. Lee White, but Mr. Brazeril said he was only eighty-seven years of age. They toss ages about like a tennis ball in Anacostia.

Sergt. Charles A. Stevens asked my aid in getting a new police station for Anacostia. It seems that $20,000 is now available, and is absolutely rusting in the Treasury on account of some technicality. In the meantime, Sergeant Stevens says as many as three men have to sleep in one bed each night, at different times, of course, but even the rotation plan is not such a lovely arrangement. Things did seem a bit crowded at the police station, and after I’d been in Anacostia two hours, I felt like kicking too.

Lieut. William T. Anderson has rounded up Anacostia criminals for thirty-seven years, and there’s not a better police officer known in these parts. The lieutenant says he’s come through without a scratch. Yes, he’s a relative of Policeman Anderson, who has been on the force some forty-seven years. Lieutenant Anderson’s hobby is dogs, muzzled or unmuzzled. Just to prove that, he’s got an immense Dane named Aleos. There’s some class to that name, isn’t there?

Benjamin F. Joy, official liveryman, has a great many kicks coming, but, like the balance of them, it doesn’t do him any good, so he’s become resigned, too. Mr. Joy says he attended one or two meetings of the Citizens’ Association and heard much oratory spilled, but he hasn’t seen the lights burn any better or the flats reclaimed or anything like that. Joy cometh home early in the morning as best he can, considering the new streets.


Which reminds me that Mr. Joy impressed upon us that there was but one saloon in Anacostia. You can’t buy the liquid that cheers over that way unless you get it from a fellow named Leonard. I talked to Will Leonard, when he wasn’t too busy, and after we had departed, learned that he and his brothers were most popular young men, especially from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight.

G. W. King and G. W., jr. have been in the harness business for some twenty years.

“Nothing to tell much,” said the elder. “We pay out money and get nothing out this way. Getting’ mighty tired of being taxed, too.”

George F. Pyles, former postmaster, has conducted a grocery store since 1881. He lost a lot of money, he says, in the panic of ’93, but then, he’s got more recent troubles than that. Before Mr. Pyles would admit his identity he wanted to know if we were “after money.” Book agents are real thick in that settlement, ‘tis said.

J. B. Bury’s drug store is a great resort. I ran upon a bunch of “impressions” there. First, I found the indefatigable Will Webb, a yound man with a highly trained pompadour, who Mr. Bury says is one of the slickest soda-jerkers east of the river. Mr. Webb can jerk soda, shake hands across counter with an affinity and roach his silken locks back, all at the same time.


Here also I discovered Ralph Beall, described by his friends as the “champeen” buck and wing dancer of Anacostia. Mr. Beall made the sapient observation that Anacostia boys don’t marry Anacostia girls and vice versa.

“And why?” I inquired, much surprised, for I’d seen some likely chances thereabouts.

“Girls know too much about us. Can’t keep a secret this side of the river,” quoth he, rather enigmatically. Up stepped Arthur Simpson, a young man with embonpoint, and said he’d married at home and was glad of it. Simpson comes over this way to work every day, but the boys generally see one another at Sear’s pool room during the early evening hours.

By the way, owing to the fact that the Masonic hall has been occupied by a kindergarten for many months. Anacostia young folk have had nowhere to dance. I was told that they’d succeeded in getting the kindergarten moved and would trip the light fantastic in short order now. All of which shows there are difficulties in Anacostia other than those relating to streets and flats.


Of course, I had to see Dr. James A. Watson, president of the citizens’ association. Dr. Watson is a “never againer.” For five years, he says, he’s fought for the things that are not and now he’s tired.

Dr. Watson owns the only auto in Anacostia and admits a speed of twenty-five miles once upon a time, but dasn’t do it again. Incidentally, the doctor is a relic hunter. A bit of iron from the famous gunboat maria Theresa props his door; there’s a cane 104 years old cut from Long Bridge, bits of the battle ship Maine, a hinge plate from Cervera’s flagship, a door knob from an ancient Porto Rican palace and most anything else you want to see.

After Dr. Watson resigns from the Citizens’ Association he’ll have more time for relics. Yes, the doctor, too, said Anacostia was painfully hea….y, from a professional standpoint. He ought to know.

Eugene Thompson is another C. A. Man who doesn’t fail to ask for what he wants. Some of the neighbors say if Mr. Thompson got everything he asked for Anacostia, and that part about his house especially, would be a little dream. Mr. Thompson is a rising young Washington banker. He commutes each day.


Anacostia has a most popular young banker of its own, one who stays to home, in Frank Isaac. Frank pays especial attention to the ladies’ department, ‘tis said, and can figure discount to one of the fair sex in something like an hour. He comes across to a man in about 35 seconds.

While I sat talking to Lieutenant Anderson, an exciting complaint came into the police station. Peace Officer Gilliott had offended one of the neighbors by running a horse which had the colic up and down ex-Jackson street, now U. Said neighbor reported that “too much dust is being raised.” A policeman was sent out to ask the peace officer to cure the colic by other means, as the neighbors were complaining.

The peace officer, by the way, is known as “Fighting Joe” Gilliott. Funny, ain’t it? A “peace officer” is the old name for constable, at which trade Mr. Gilliott has served his apprenticeship.

Just for information, I’ll call off a few of the new streets: Taylor now answers to the name of Sixteenth; Washington is an inconsequential affair called V; Monroe has been rechristened W; John Quincy Adams answers present to Fifteenth; Pierce to Fourteenth and Jackson to U. etc. Yes, “etc.” expresses Anacostia’s feelings.


Anacostia was laid out in the early fifties by John Fox and John Van Hook. Since then, the people say, the town has been “laid out” in another way by every Congress that ever did business.

Dr. White of the government Hospital for the Insane, it is alleged, is about the only Anacostian that can get what he wants from the “bunch” on the hill. They don’t see why Congress should do more for crazy folk than for sane ones.

(From the Washington Times, September 27, 1908)

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4 Comments on “Portrait of Anacostia in 1908”

  1. […] Washington suburbs as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, and Tenleytown. Today’s feature is […]

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  3. […] Washington suburbs as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, Tenleytown, Brookland, and Brightwood. Today’s feature is […]

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