Posted tagged ‘streets’

Could Rock Creek Church Road Be D.C.’s Oldest Street?

December 18, 2013

On December 10th, the Georgetown Metropolitan posted their quest to figure out what the oldest continuously named street in the District of Columbia was. Based on the assumption that this street would be in Georgetown — founded in 1751 — they came up with the answer as Water Street (tossing aside Dunbarton Street and Prospect Street because each of them were once referred to as avenues). However, I think this view is too narrow.

To begin with, I think minor variations in names need to be forgiven. In searching through old newspapers and maps, inconsistency in spelling or wording often exists. Secondly, focusing only on established settlements and towns discounts rural roads, several of which existed in the territory that later became the District of Columbia. So, if one accepts this broader view of street names in D.C., I propose that Rock Creek Church Road has a good claim to being the oldest continuously used street name in D.C.

For context, take a look at the 1799 “Partial cadastral map of southern part of Georgetown, Washington D.C.” housed in the Library of Congress. This map does not contain either Dunbarton or Prospect streets. It does contain a Water Street, but it is located in the wrong place. The 1799 Water Street is the section of Wisconsin Avenue south of M Street.

Now, let’s look at a map from 1793, also from the Library of Congress collection. The Territory of Columbia map attributed to Andrew Ellicott predates the Georgetown map by six years. It does an excellent job of showing the major rural roads in what became the District of Columbia. Most of these roads are designated by where they go rather than by a true name. The map contains three roads labeled “Road to Bladensburg” for example. Other roads lead to Great Falls, Frederick Town, and Upper Marlboro. However, one road stands out. It has an established name, and that name has been more or less consistent since before the map was drawn. That road is Rock Creek Road, known today as Rock Creek Church Road. These rural roads also appear prominently in a later 1819 map.

Both the name and the contours of today’s Rock Creek Church Road closely conform to the appropriate section of the 1793 map. The detail from the map below generally shows the section of Rock Creek [Church] Road from the 18th century that still exists today.

Rock Creek Church Road 1793 detail(Detail of the 1793 map showing location of today’s 7th Street/Georgia Avenue in green and section of Rock Creek Road that still exists today between the orange lines.)

It makes sense that Rock Creek [Church] Road would be both ancient and established. According to the history shared by St. Paul’s Rock Creek, the church was established in 1712. Colonel John Bradford pledged 100 acres of land to serve as a Glebe for the parish in 1719. This land today contains Rock Creek Cemetery and St. Paul’s church (i.e. the Rock Creek church). For this land to be useful to the church community, it had to be located along a road that would allow worshipers access. So, Rock Creek Road must have predated the founding of the church. It is also likely that the church was informally referred to as the Rock Creek church, taking its name from the road rather than the other way around. That the parish was not officially called Rock Creek Parish until 1856 seems to support this.

With regards to when the word “church” was officially added to the name of Rock Creek Road is difficult to say for certain.  I’ve been able to find references to “Rock Creek Church Road” as early as August 13, 1855, in newspapers and this predated the renaming of the parish. There are also many examples of “Rock Creek Road” in newspapers as late as the mid-1950s. To add to this confusion, in searching the Library of Congress Name Authority File, there is also a listed reference to the road as Rock Creek Cemetery Road which dates to December 18, 1837.

All of this suggests that early road names had a certain fluidity to them. Rock Creek Church Road and Rock Creek Road were interchangeable for a very long time, but I’ll grant that early maps have a preference for the shorter version. Still, I suspect that if one asked for directions to Rock Creek Church Road in 1793 (or before), that the question would have been easily understood and an accurate answer would have been given. Keeping that in mind, I think it’s safe to consider that Rock Creek Church Road may very well be the oldest stable street name in the District of Columbia.

Would you Like to Live on Putnam Street Instead of Rock Creek Church Rd.? The U.S. Senate Once Considered It

December 4, 2013

While the renaming of Brightwood Avenue to Georgia Avenue in 1908 by an act of Congress is well documented, I’ve recently learned that the U.S. Senate also contemplated renaming Rock Creek Church Road to Putnam Street in late 1910 and early 1911. Below is an article from the Evening Star dated December 14, 1910, which provides some background on that effort and linking it to a resident on the street who happened to be a member of Alabama Senator Joseph F. Johnston’s staff.

Name change for Rock Creek Church Road 1910

Apparently, the proposal to rename the thoroughfare was opposed by residents of the area, but supported by the District Commissioners. The article below — from the Evening Star dated January 1, 1911 — provides more details, including the origin of Rock Creek Church Road’s name.

Name change for RCCR Jan 1 1911 Evening Star

In searching through the Congressional Record, I was able to find that Senator Gallinger presented “memorials of the Park View Citizens’ Association and of sundry citizens of Washington, D.C., remonstrating against the proposed change of the name … ” on January 13, 1911 and he further “presented a memorial of the Citizens’ Association of Petworth, D.C. … against the enactment of legislation proposing to change the name … ” on January 16, 1911. In both instances, the memorials were referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia. (46 Cong. Rec. 835 1911; 46 Cong. Rec. 923 1911).

Thus far, I can find no reference to the legislation making it out of Committee … and as the street still bears the original name of Rock Creek Church Road … can only presume that the immediate and broad-based community opposition to the Senate proposal won the day.

Work on Irving Street Green Infrastruction Project to Begin November 25

November 20, 2013

Recently, DC Water alerted me that they have an infrastructure project that will involve Irving Street east of Park Place. It will begin on November 25th and extend until April 2014. The project is intended to help reduce flooding in Bloomingdale. More information on the installation of the bioretention cells is available on DC Water’s project information sheet and posted below.

Bioretention Locations

As part of DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project and medium-term flood mitigation efforts in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, we will be installing a series of bioretention cells along Irving Street, between Michigan Avenue and North Capitol Street. These cells will help reduce storm-water runoff through capture, infiltration and treatment before it enters the sewer system. The Irving Street Green Infrastructure project was previously discussed in conjunction with the First Street Tunnel Project during briefings with Councilmember McDuffie and presentations to ANC 5E, Bloomingdale and Stronghold Civic Associations.

The proposed schedule of work for this project is November 2013 through April 2014, and much of the work will be performed during daytime hours, from 7:00am – 7:00pm.

This and other important information on the project may be found on the attached project information sheet, which will be made available on DC Water’s website in the coming weeks.

Why Aren’t All Streetlights Equal?

December 12, 2012
This streetlight on Quebec Place illustrates the District standard paint color.

This streetlight on Quebec Place illustrates the District standard paint color.

Maybe its just me, but when it comes to city infrastructure I tend to believe that the level of service shouldn’t matter on what part of the city you live. I’m currently focused on streetlights and find it interesting that the city has different standards for historic districts, great streets corridors, and then the rest of the city. This difference is both in style and color.

While I appreciate that there is an effort on the part of the city to beautify designated great streets and historic districts with design compatible lighting, honestly the entire city would benefit from a uniform lighting hierarchy where different styles of lighting were installed based on street classifications.

Streetlights, such as this cobra hood on Rock Creek Church Rd., are replaced with far more attractive alternatives on major great streets corridors.

Streetlights, such as this cobra hood on Rock Creek Church Rd., are replaced with far more attractive alternatives on great streets corridors.

At the very least, the city could adopt a uniform color. In speaking with DDOT I learned that gray is the standard street light color — unless the light happens to be in a historic district or great streets corridor. In that case, the lighting tends to be the gloss black.

On some streets, such at Quebec Place, the lighting is already stylistically compatible with the nearby housing and only needs to be finished in black to be compatible with the new ‘great streets’ streetlights installed on nearby Georgia Avenue. Painting these streetlights black would be a simple fix that could be implemented over time and enhance the city’s efforts to beautify our corridors and neighborhoods.


New Tree Planting Season Has Begun, but Not All Streets Get Trees

November 19, 2012

New tree in front of 3641 Georgia Avenue.

The arrival of November heralds the start of street tree planting season. From November to May, DDOT Trees will plant at least 3,540 street trees citywide in all eight wards. I’ve already begun to see new street trees planted in empty tree boxes around the neighborhood.

In looking at DDOT’s interactive tree map, there will not be a lot of new trees planted in Park View this year — and for a good reason. Like other residents in the area, I’ve worked hard to report empty tree boxes to DDOT over the past few years and DDOT has been very responsive in planting them. Street trees are not only attractive, but they help keep the neighborhood cooler in the summer and make for a more walkable community. In speaking with dog owners, I know there are some streets — such as Warder — that are avoided in the summer for no other reason than they do not have any mature trees providing shade and as a result are simply too hot for people their pets.

The ultimate goal is to have a community full of mature trees where residents would only need to report the occasional dead tree for removal and replacement.

Map showing street trees in Park View, as well as the neighborhood’s street tree desert.

Yet, as was pointed out to me by a resident on Newton Place and anyone who has walked the community can tell you, not all of our streets are equal. There are many streets in the area — primarily where development first took hold ca. 1904 — that simply do not have trees and have no dedicated place to plant them. Perhaps these streets developed this way because the Soldiers’ Home was open to the community at the time. It’s hard to say. But as the Soldiers’ Home grounds are generally closed to the public and have been since the 1950s, now would be a good time to study their treeless nature and see if trees can be added.

The north side of the side walk on the 500 block of Lamont is more than wide enough for a few tree boxes.

Off hand, I can think of a couple of different ways that trees could be added to some of these block. For instance, the 500 block of Lamont Street has a very wide sidewalk on the north side that could easily accommodate two or three tree boxes. Warder Street, on the other hand, could have tree boxes added to the no parking areas at the cross walks. This would have the added bonus of making the street appear visually smaller which tends to make drivers slow down. On other streets, it might be possible to eke out a foot or two from one side of the street without any loss of parking.

What is ultimately needed is engagement between the community and DDOT to identify what can be done and where residents would like to see more trees. I’m sure Park View is not the only neighborhood that contains a tree desert. With the variety of options and solutions needed to address this, it would make a great small scale pilot program for the District in how to green up existing communities.


Some Props to DDOT

February 13, 2012

Freshly filled pothole on Irving Street

I wanted to start the week with some good news of a sort. Namely, following up on two very minor posts that ultimately involved DDOT. In both cases, after alerting DDOT to the problem on Twitter, they took the issue up and resolved it.

The first was the dangerous pothole located on the 500 block of Irving Street. DDOT was informed of the problem on February 3rd and replied immediately that it actually looked like a patch on a utility cut rather than a pothole. They added that they would have it inspected and repaired. Judging from the photo above, DDOT was true to their word.

Then, on February 7th I alerted DDOT to two parking meters on Newton Place that appeared to provide different parking periods for the same money. Again, DDOT followed through. On the following day, they replied to me that they checked the Georgia Avenue meters. They determined that they were actually programmed correctly, but that one of the rate plates was incorrect. That rate plate has now been replaced.


Dangerous Pothole/Depression on Irving Street

February 3, 2012

For those that travel on Irving Street east of Georgia Avenue, beware of the pothole — or road slab depression — that is wreaking havoc on the 500 block of the street. Vehicles have been observed veering into the next lane as they approach this severe depression in the roadway. Based on the paint markings, this looks like a failed repair from earlier this year.

500 block of Irving Street, NW


Help Keep Catch Basins Clear of Debris

January 10, 2012

Clogged catch basin at 6th and Newton Place, NW

Did you know you can help DC Water keep streets from flooding and keep trash out of our waterways?

According to them … “the District has more than 25,000 storm drains that direct stormwater off roads and into sewers. A catch basin is the part of the storm drain that catches litter before it can enter the system. DC Water cleans and maintains catch basins regularly, removing 23 tons of debris every day.”

In order to help DC Water with their regular cleaning … which ultimately helps prevent flooding in the neighborhood … residents can report clogged catch basins for service. This can be done by either calling (202) 612-3400 or sending a tweet to @dcwater. Be sure to identify the location as specifically as possible.

I’ve recently reported two clogged catch basins via Twitter and look forward to seeing how well it works.


Correction: 700 b/o Park Road Getting New Curbing … and Sidewalks

September 28, 2011

Yesterday, I alerted the community that the curbing on the 700 b/o Park Road was being replaced. Well, turns out I was only partially correct. The City is also replacing sections of the sidewalk. I’ll have to keep an eye on this block to see just how extensive the improvements are.

700 b/o Park Road Getting New Curbing & Gutters

September 27, 2011

New curbing on Park Road near the Georgia Avenue intersection

Anytime I see infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood I’m generally happy. This applies equally to trees, renovated and/or restored buildings, or streetscape improvements. While the most obvious improvement to the streets around here are the section of Georgia Avenue north of Otis Place, NW, I discovered over the weekend that the 700 b/o Park Road is also getting some improvements.

The north side of Park Road is in the midst of having the curbing and gutters replaced for the entire block. Having walked that street for the last few years I can definitely say that it’s long overdue. The existing curbs are almost at street level and serve nearly no purpose — the most important purpose probably being guiding rainwater to the storm drains.

Still, it’s a little sad to see the old curbs go. They are made of stone and quite old as can be seen by their wear. It’s even possible that they are the original curbs … but if they are no longer able to fulfill their purpose then I guess it’s time for them to replaced. I would, however, like to know what makes the City decide to use granite vs. poured concrete. Is there an ordering system? Does it depend upon how a street is classified? I definitely need to find out.

Additional photos below.

Park Road Curb replacement in progress

Section of Park Road with original curbing


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