Georgetown Time Machine: Herring Hill

This week on Georgetown Time Machine, GM visits Herring Hill, the traditionally African American quarter of east Georgetown. The photo comes from the collection of Charles W. Cushman, held at the Indiana University archives. (And thank you to the fantastic Old Time DC group for locating it).

The photo is marked as being on 28th St., but it’s actually on 27th St. The homes look quite a bit different now:

The photo was taken September 24, 1940. According to the 1940 Census, the home at the center, the one with the woman standing in the doorway, was occupied by the Washington family:

It’s possible that the woman in the doorway is Josephine Washington, the head of the household. She lived there with her mother, brother and sister, and also her three sons, a niece, a cousin and a boarder. She was 27 years old.

The house was rented for $18 month (a little over $300 in today’s money). GM believes that this entire row of houses was bought and redeveloped in the 1950s. This would fit the common story for the gentrification of Black Georgetown. As tenants, the residents had no recourse and could be forced out. Once the renovations were complete, they couldn’t afford to move back in.

Other interesting aspects of the photo include the tennis courts back to the left. They appear to be in poor shape, but it’s hard to see for certain. This was during the prime of Margaret and Roumania Peters’ tennis careers, and just a few years before Gene Kelly stopped by and played them. So if the courts weren’t in good shape, it was probably temporary.

Another thing GM always points out in these old photos is that the sidewalks were concrete. The brick sidewalks we have now are a newer addition meant to look old, and quaint and were also part and parcel with the ejection of Blacks from Georgetown.

This really is a stunning photo, and it’s a shame that it appears to be the only one Cushman took of Georgetown on his visit. The rest of the photos in the archive are of tourist spots like the Jefferson Memorial.

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