GM recently embarked on a quest to figure out what was the oldest continuously named street in the District of Columbia. While GM initially thought it was going to be a easy task, his initial inquiries came up inconclusive. But he’s tentatively ready to crown the victor to a short street in Georgetown.
Georgetown existed before the District of Columbia. It was founded as a Maryland town in 1751, more than fifty years before the District was established. If any street name from Georgetown’s founding were still in use, it would clearly be the longest continuously used street name in DC.
Unfortunately, no street name from Georgetown’s founding is still used. Here’s the original plan of the town:
None of the original street names are still in use, with the one exception of Water St. Originally the street we now call Wisconsin Ave. was called Water St. south of the street we now call M St. Nowadays we call K St. west of Wisconsin Ave. Water St. But in 1751, this stretch was called “The Keys” and West Landing. So it’s not quite right to say Water St. is the longest continuously named street in DC. At least not based on this information.
All the other “Old Georgetown” street names in use in 1751–like Bridge St. and High St.–stopped being used shortly after Georgetown was merged with Washington City in 1871.
Jump ahead from the town’s founding in 1751 to 1796, and more of the “Old Georgetown” street names were added, including Dunbarton St.,Prospect St., and Water St. (but this time to include what we now call Water St.). This is still before the creation of DC, and so they should still preexist any non-Georgetown street names.
All three of those street names continued after the 1871 merger. So it’s probably safe to say one of those three names is the oldest continuously used street name in DC.
But the question is which of them, if any, is the oldest? We know that the name Water St. is the oldest, but was it used to mean the actual waterfront street before Prospect or Dunbarton St. were used?
In a way we can already dismiss Dunbarton seeing as it has changed its spelling and suffix over the years, going from Dunbarton St. to Dumbarton Ave. to Dumbarton St. So it’s really between Prospect and Water.
But if we’re ready to dismiss Dumbarton St. because it once was called Dumbarton Ave., then Water might be the winner after all. That’s because like Dumbarton (and Olive) Prospect St. also spent a period after the merger being known as Prospect Ave. It appears all the “Old Georgetown” street names that survived the merger were temporary referred to as avenues. That is except for Water St., which doesn’t appear to have been renamed.
So barring new information, GM is ready to give the crown of oldest continuously used street name to Water St.