Archive for the ‘History’ category

Battle of Fort Stevens 155th Anniversary Program is Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm

July 12, 2019

The annual program commemorating the Battle of Fort Stevens is this Saturday (7/13) from 10 am to 4 pm. Its a fun event and worth stopping by even if its only for a few hours (Check out their Facebook event page for details). Of particular interest, this year includes Cannon Firing events (Fort Stevens Field) scheduled for 12 pm and 2 pm.

This year’s theme focuses on the summer 1864 campaigns: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, the Federal pursuit of Early culminating in the Battle of Cool Springs, and the 1864 Valley Campaign.

Below is the draft program, which give a good idea of the types of events and scheduled times.

Civil War Walking Tour of Fort Totten Happening on Saturday, 11 am

February 8, 2019

Tomorrow, February 9th, you can join join the Civil War Defenses of Washington for a tour of Fort Totten, one of 68 major forts that encircled Washington DC during the Civil War. The tour begins a 11:00 a.m. The fort saw action during the Battle of Fort Stevens in July 1864 and is one of 17 sites preserved and managed by the National Park Service.

Ranger Steve T. Phan, a Civil War expert, will guide visitors in and around the historic earthen fort, including recently discovered remnants thought to be lost during the post-war era. The walk will be 1.5 miles and conducted over paved sidewalks, dirt paths, and grass.

Meet Ranger Steve at the entrance to the Fort Totten Metro Station on Saturday, February 9th at 11:00 a.m. Visitors will be guided back to the metro station at the conclusion of the tour.

For more information on the Fort Totten tour, click here. For more information on Fort Totten, please visit the CWDW Website here.

Below is a photo of Fort Totten today as well as several from the Civil War era.

Fort Totten today

Some Old Advertising Ink Blotters for Arcade Sunshine Cleaners

August 9, 2018

I’m always looking out for ephemera related to the neighborhood, and recently I found some interesting advertising ink blotters for the Arcade Sunshine cleaners that were once located on Lamont Street between Georgia and Sherman. Other items I’ve found include matchbook covers and golf tees.

The site is currently being converted into 225 new housing units for the community.

Irving Street Express Way & North Capitol Cloverleaf Remnants of Unrealized Freeway System

December 8, 2017

While creating a good crosstown transportation connection between Brookland and Adams Morgan is a goal of the recent Crosstown Multimodal Study, this is not a new idea. Creating a good crosstown transportation network has vexed District transportation planners for more than 90 years. DDOT’s Multimodal Study is notable for taking all forms of transportation into consideration. Unfortunately, efforts in the 1920s and 1950s did not do this and prioritized automotive transportation at the expense of walk-ability and the environment. This resulted in blocks without street trees, a four-lane expressway that leads nowhere, and the District’s only transportation cloverleaf at North Capitol and Irving streets.

Both the Irving Street expressway and the cloverleaf intersection at the Washington Hospital Center date to the 1950s and were intended to solve two problems. The first was to establish a better crosstown route. The second was to connect that route to the freeway system in Maryland. Neither of these goals achieve their promise.

One of the earliest efforts to identify Columbia Road as part of an improved crosstown route dates to 1927. It came out of a recommendation to the National Capital Park and Planning Commission by a subcommittee designated to study the traffic plan developed by L.D. Tilton, a St. Louis traffic expert. Tilton’s traffic plan attempted to place all sections of the District of Columbia within a quarter or half mile distance of a selected major thoroughfare. Recommendations to the NCPPC were divided into two divisions – crosstown and radial.

While 18 major traffic thoroughfares were definitely recommended, the proposal to include Columbia Road was tabled to be decided at a later date. This was due to the fact that it was considered unduly narrow between Sixteenth Street and the Soldiers’ Home. While all agreed it was ideally located to serve as a crosstown route, there was doubt that the street could be widened to serve in that capacity.

Never-the-less, two important routes were identified in 1927 that would later play a role in creating the North Capitol and Irving cloverleaf. The relevant radial route consisted of North Capitol Street, Michigan Avenue, Harewood Road, and Blair Road to the District boundary. The relevant crosstown route was Garfield Street, by way of Cleveland Avenue, Calvert Street, and Columbia Road to Sixteenth Street (from Sixteenth Street to the Soldiers’ Home, the matter of widening Columbia Road or combining the route with another street to be decided later). From the Soldiers’ Home the route would continue along Michigan Avenue and Franklin Street to Bladensburg Road.

In 1931, NCPPC used the 1927 thoroughfare plan to prioritize street improvements and paving. While the matter of the crosstown route between Sixteenth Street and the Soldiers’ Home was still undecided, the proposed solution was to develop Colombia Road for westbound traffic and Harvard Street for eastbound traffic – and then to realign the road north of McMillan reservoir to connect this pair with Michigan Avenue to the east.

While the basic corridors were identified in 1927 and expanded in 1931, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 1950s that genuine efforts were made to realize these corridors. The plan consisted of constructing two new highways through the Soldiers’ Home.

The north-south freeway was proposed as a six-lane highway that would end the detour around the Soldiers’ Home and connect North Capitol Street directly with Maryland.

Rather than construct a full-fledged east-west freeway, planners proposed a cheaper alternative. Instead of a freeway, planners proposed a new one-way network – Irving street one-way west and Columbia Road one-way east. Irving would be cut through the Soldiers’ Home to connect with Michigan Avenue at Harwood Road. Other suggestions from this plan included:

  • Making Park Place one-way northbound;
  • making Warder Street one-way southbound; and,
  • realigning Irving Street at 14th Street and Georgia Avenue.

(Map from the Washington Post, February 20, 1952.)

After two-years of negotiations, the southern 42-acres of the Soldiers’ Home was transferred to the District in late 1954 paving the way for the highway project to move forward. As construction was geared to begin in late 1956, the original plan to use Irving and Columbia Road was altered to include Lamont and Kenyon streets as well. Each street would parallel each other as far as Klingle Road, NW. Harvard Street would later be identified to replace Lamont.

(Overview of configuration in 1954 from the Evening Star, September 26, 1954.)

From the Evening Star, 1958.

The narrowness of the streets between the Soldiers’ Home and Sixteenth street was identified in the 1927 plan and not entirely solved with the one-way street scheme. To receive Federal aid for the crosstown street project, the streets included in the network had to be a least 30 feet wide. This meant that several of the streets had to be widened, some as little as 6 inches on each side. This requirement doomed more than 100 street trees which were cut down to make way for the widened streets and new curbs.

For example, Harvard Street between Georgia Avenue and 14th Street was 29 feet wide. To gain the needed extra foot the curbs were moved six inches on either side. To make way for the new curbs on Harvard, 27 trees – 18 pin oaks and nine ginkos – were cut down. To widen Irving Street west of Georgia Avenue by two feet, 40 street trees were cut down. While some of these streets have wonderful tree-line blocks today, other blocks on these routes are still tree-less with no room for street trees.

The one-way street network east of 14th Street and the Irving Street expressway across the former Soldiers’ Home grounds was completed and opened to motorists on October 20th 1958 as work continued on the North Capitol cloverleaf and connecting Kenyon Street to Park Road west of 14th Street. The final stage of the crosstown route project was completed on August 19, 1959, when the final one-way streets were implemented. These were Irving Street between Adams Mill Road and 11th Street (eastbound), Kenyon Street between 11th Street and 14th Street (westbound), and Park Road between 14th Street and 17th Street (westbound).

In a twist of irony, while the effort to complete the crosstown network and cloverleaf intersection were being completed the District Commissioners put a halt to the north-south freeway effort. Even with construction of the North Capitol street extension underway across the Soldiers’ Home grounds, in 1960 the Commissioners followed the recommendation of city highway officials to cancel the contract. While the goal was to tie the North Capitol highway into a major Maryland highway, Maryland officials were uncommitted to the goal.

(Map of street network configuration in 1958, from the Evening Star, Oct. 19, 1958.)

References

“3 Streets Turn One-Way Today.” The Washington Post, Aug. 19, 1959, p. B1.

“18 Thoroughfares Proposed to Serve for Major Traffic.” The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 1927, p. M2.

“Committee Draws Radial Street Plan, Enlarging System.” The Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1927, p. 22.

Deane, James G. “One-Way Crosstown Network Cuts Cost of Freeway Solution.” The Evening Star, Feb. 20, 1952, p. A-14.

Deane, James G. “Two Fast Arteries Would End Roadblock at Soldiers’ Home.” The Evening Star, Feb. 19, 1952, p. A-7.

Gwertzman, Bernard. “Street Widening Dooms More Than 100 Trees Along New Crosstown Route in Northwest.” The Evening Star, Apr. 10, 1958, p. A-21.

“N. Capitol Corridor Plans Job Canceled.” The Evening Star, Feb. 19, 1960, p. B-3.

“Park Road Partly Open For Traffic.” The Washington Post, Dec. 25, 1958, p. B1.

“Priority Paving of Main Streets Urged by Group.” The Evening Star, Dec. 26, 1931, p. A-12.

“Soldiers Home Crossing to Open.” The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1958, p. B6.

“Soldiers’ Home Crossing To Speed D.C. Traffic.” The Evening Star, Oct. 19, 1958, p. A-23.

“Soldiers’ Home Expressway Will Ease Crosstown Traffic.” The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1956, p. 34.

Stepp, John W. “42-Acre Soldiers Home Tract Given D.C. for Street Project.” The Evening Star, Sept. 26, 1954, p. 1.

Pierce Mill Demonstrating Ice Cream Making on Saturday, a Nice Outing for the Family

August 4, 2017

If you’re looking for something fun to do this weekend, Pierce Mill is hosting a free event on Saturday demonstrating ice cream making. From their announcement:

Lean how to make hand-cranked ice cream the old fashioned way on Saturday, August 5th at Peirce Mill starting at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.  This demonstration will show you how ice and salt creates a brine that reduces the temperature below freezing, and cranking the handle for 30 minutes can whip this frozen treat made famous by Dolly Madison after her return from France. A historic recipe by Thomas Jefferson with modern adaptation will be available to take away Free!

Peirce Mill is located in Rock Creek Park at 2401 Tilden Street, NW, at the intersection of Beach Drive and Tilden Street, NW (Park Road if approaching from the east).  The mill was built circa 1820 by Isaac Peirce and owned by the family for three generations.  To learn more, visit www.FriendsofPeirceMill.org.

WAMU Features Mt. Pleasant’s Woodner — and How It and the Neighborhood has Changed over the Years

June 28, 2017

A view of the Woodner through the center of a round patio and staircase in the back of the building.
Tyrone Turner / WAMU

This morning I awoke to hear this WAMU feature on Mt. Pleasant’s Woodner Apartment building and its history. I found it to be an interesting history on how life in the building, and the surrounding Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, have changed over the years. The article touches upon segregation, gentrification, and the impacts that change has on a neighborhood.

While the focus of the feature is on the Woodner and Mt. Pleasant, I find that the story is relevant to all Ward 1 neighborhoods and well worth the listen.

Washington’s 1967 Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim Pools

April 26, 2017

In May 1967, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced that Washington would get 15 new swimming pools. The new pools would be 20-by-40-foot pools and were expected to be completed by July. The pools were designed to be shallow pools and to be located on playgrounds or community centers (including Park View), where they would be intended to be used by small children for wading and learning to swim.

The Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Park View Recreation Center.

Image of Watkins pool with leaked water — from the Washington Evening Star, July 16, 1967.

The total cost budgeted for the new swimming pools was $40,000. The first three — at Watkins Recreation Center, Barry Farm, and Deanwood — were completed and open by July 16. However, they were found to have a design flaw that caused water to flow out of the pools and onto the grass surrounding them. The worst conditions were at Barry Farm and Watkins. At Watkins, the water ran to the sidelines of the softball diamond. At Barry Farm, the water ran downhill onto a children’s play area and directly under a set of swings. Efforts were undertaken to correct the problems and adjust construction of the other twelve pools then being built.

The final six pools opened in mid-August, behind schedule. They were the pools at Wilson, Benning Stoddert, Parkside, Lincoln-Capper, Garrison, and North Michigan Park.

While the pools were considered a success, when children began to enter the pools after hours the recreation department adopted a process of emptying each pool on a nightly basis, with each pool holding between 14,000 and 35,000 gallons of water — a very wasteful and time consuming practice. It also meant that the pools were not filled or used at all in 1977 due to an area water crisis.

With the pools now reaching their 50th anniversary, I reviewed the sites of each pool and discovered that only four of the original 15 pools still exist. These are at Park View, Watkins, and Lincoln-Capper. The map below shows the location of all 15 pools, with existing pools in blue and pools no longer existing in red.

Reviewing the locations of the Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pools also provides insight into the changing nature of playgrounds in the District of Columbia. For example, some pools have been replaced by aquatic centers (Barry Farm and Deanwood), some merely are gone while the playgrounds still exist, and in some cases the entire playground/recreation center no longer exists. An extreme example of the latter is with the old Garrison Playground which is nothing more than an empty field today.

(To the south of Garrison Elementary School is an empty field which was once the location of the Garrison Playground.)

It is difficult to tell what the future may hold for the remaining four Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pools. While the ones at Park View, Happy Hollow, and Watkins still appear to be going strong, the playground around the old Lincoln-Capper pool is currently surrounded by work to upgrade the surrounding playground, presumably to partially accommodate the neighboring Van Ness school.

Below are photos of Watkins and Lincoln-Capper as they currently appear.

(Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Watkins.)

(Walk-to-Learn-to-Swim pool at Lincoln-Capper.)


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