Seven Georgetowns: Herring Hill

This week for Seven Georgetowns, GM explores the historic district of Herring Hill.

Herring Hill is far eastern Georgetown, basically 29th St. to Rock Creek. Cultural DC has a nice explanation of the name and the history of this quarter:

Tradition has it that the name came from the fish that neighborhood families caught in nearby Rock Creek. According to historian Mary Mitchell, by 1860 Herring Hill was a self-sustaining, even village-like community with a population of 951. Interspersed among the residences by the 1920s were candy stores, “mom and pop groceries,” coal and ice sellers, barbershops and beauty shops, cleaners, movers, feed stores, and everything else necessary to life. Most were black-owned businesses. Laborers lived alongside physicians, lawyers, and other professionals.

Herring Hill’s simple frame dwellings survived the gentrification of the 1930s to become prized, well-located townhouses in the 1960s and beyond.

In choosing this name for Seven Georgetowns (other than, say, Rose Park, or whatever) GM wanted to really emphasize the African American history and how closely it is tied to the homes and shops of this area. Some people occasionally say that all of Georgetown was a “Black ghetto” in the early 20th century. This is wrong on two accounts. The African American population was concentrated in eastern Georgetown, not spread out across the whole neighborhood. And Herring Hill was anything but a ghetto. It was a thriving, healthy neighborhood of families, businesses, churches and schools.

To get a sense for the neighborhood, you should read Black Georgetown Remembered. But for a shorter version, consider this excerpt from a letter sent to the ANC about the 7-11 back in 2011:

The block that housed P Street Pictures and 7-11 had a barber shop, shoe shine parlor and Reed’s Electric Company before Reed’s moved to Wisconsin Avenue. Around the corner on Twenty- Seventh Street, The Diamond Cab Company operated its taxi cabs. In days past, Georgetown housed the Ledo and Dumbarton movie houses, Murphy’s Five & Dime, Galliher & Huguely Lumber Yard, Ladd Mills Esso and the original Georgetown Boys Club…

The churches (most of them at least) still remain. The schools are closed. Phillips, the black school, was turned into condos after the Washington International School sold it in 2002. Corcoran, the white school, was turned into offices in 1982. It’s currently used by the Qatar Defense Ministry.

But the businesses still remain. There are a cluster of shops on P St. west of 26th St. In fact, the most prominent tenant, 7-11, has been there a surprisingly long time. As the letter mentioned above describes:

Not one business situated on either side of P Street between 26th and 27th was there in the sixties, except the 7-11.

The corner of 27th & P Street was a vacant lot that housed a mulberry tree and was used as a parking lot until the lower half of the building was erected in 1949. The upper half of the structure was added by Russell Eldridge in 1965. The first stores that opened were Russ Pharmacy and Kay’s Food Mart. Doc Russ passed away and the business was sold to Doc Schreibstein, who emptied the store one night and walked out on the note and the rent, never to be heard from again. With the advent of the chain groceries Kay’s Food Mart went bankrupt in the early sixties. Both stores sat vacant for months, partially over-lapping.

The Junior League opened The Thrift Shop in the former drug store in May, 1968 and the 7-11 became a tenant in September, 1964.

Besides the 7-11, P St. now offers an antiques shop, cleaners, a custom bike shop, a realtor, and a few other shops. There’s also a very pricey hotel, the Avery. A few blocks away is Stachowski’s, which in just a handful of years has become a neighborhood treasure.

Of course, the primary amenity of Herring Hill these days is Rose Park. The rambling park runs from M St. up to P St. and is a mix of federal and District-owned land. The south end offers a graceful lawn and trees, popular with dog owners. Further up is a great tot lot. A community center, the Peters Sisters tennis courts, and a basketball court anchor the center of the park. The northern end has a bigger kid playground and a ball field. The park then ends with another graceful lawn with trees. The park hosts a popular farmers market during the summer as well as other community events. It’s looked after by the Friends of Rose Park.

There’s is a lot that Herring Hill can still offer you. And as it once did for the historic African American community that once called it home, it continues to give its residents not a lot of great reasons to leave it.

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