Category Archives: History

Hey, At Least It’s Not Flooding Too

As we muscle through the Polar Vortex, perhaps it’s some slight solace to remember that it could be worse. Like how it was February 96 years ago. It may not have been quite as cold, but it was cold enough to freee the Potomac, which was a salient fact seeing as the river was flooding.

The flood was on the week leading up to February 19, 1918. Here’s an excerpt from the Post’s report on the wreckage:

30,000 Throng Aqueduct Bridge and Neighboring Roads to Witness Wreckage Left By Weeks’ Flood

Everybody nearly was out on the Aqueduct bridge yesterday…watching the ice in the Potomac go by. There were close to 30,000 of them during the height of the rush witnessing and commenting on the greatest flood the Capital has seen since 1889…A young woman stood on the bridge. She was filled with poetry by the maelstrom which whirled beneath her feet. She grasped her escort by the arm “Ain’t it wonderful what nature can do?” she breathed. Continue reading


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Listen to a Little Georgetown (and Rock) History

The other day, GM linked to an article telling the story of the late great Cellar Door. The reason for the publication of the article was that Neil Young just released an album from a series of live concerts he gave at the Georgetown venue in 1970. Give it a listen here.

Of course, this isn’t the only Cellar Door live recording released by a legend. Miles Davis released one. The Bluegrass greats the Seldom Scene had one too.

For a phrase often described as the most beautiful in the English language, GM guesses its fitting it’s created some beautiful music too.

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Oldest Street Name in DC Sought

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.


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Oral History on Tap at City Tavern Tonight

Georgetown’s history is well documented in photographs and history books. But an even richer source of the neighborhood’s history is in the stories of those still alive to tell them. And tonight CAG is holding its annual meeting focused on the oral history of Georgetown.

The meeting is at 7:00 at a building that is about as historical as they get in DC: the City Tavern Club (so this is also a great opportunity to get a peak in this private club for free!) On the panel giving their stories will be Steve Kurzman, Barbara Downs, Pie Friendly, Billy Martin (of Martin’s Tavern), and Chris Murray. Continue reading

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Eyesore at Wisconsin and M



While GM was away last week, he received several emails from readers lamenting the new paint-job at Serendipity 3 at M and Wisconsin. GM got home last night and took a quick trip by, and yes it is pretty hideous.

Using the company’s purplish pink hue, the restaurant painted about a quarter of the building’s trim. The color is pretty garish, but GM’s not sure if it’s made better or worse by only being haphazardly applied. It’s like they gave up once they realized how ugly it is.

But this is no call to action. Despite the rigorous historical preservation laws that Georgetown is subject to, there are no restrictions on paint color. And really, there shouldn’t be. Preservation is about preserving permanent things. Paint color is temporary (it’s slightly different, however, if we’re talking about unpainted historic brick. No protections exist for them now, but there could be a case to do so.) Continue reading


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How Some Beatniks Inspired Clyde’s

Bohemian Landmark?

In honor of Clyde’s 50th anniversary, GM is re-running this article he wrote several years ago about a cool little community that once existed on 31st St. It was at this location that Stewart Davison, founder of Clyde’s, came across a New Yorker magazine cover that inspired the design of the restaurant. That cover can still be seen framed on the wall at Clyde’s.

Think Georgetown in the 1950’s and 60’s and most people think of JFK and socialite doyennes.  Almost totally forgotten from those days in Georgetown is a coffeehouse and a community of beatniks and free-spirits once located in a small courtyard off 31st st. Nowadays it’s the office complex called Hamilton Court at 1232 31st. St. Find out the wine-soaked pot-scented history of this perfectly ordinary looking office complex after the jump:

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When Georgetown Was West Washington

Right now the businesses and residents of the neighborhood near Nationals Stadium are arguing over what that neighborhood should be called. Residents seem to prefer the more established name of Navy Yard, while the BID prefers its own name: Capitol Riverfront.

If Georgetown is any precedent, then the newer Capitol Riverfront name won’t stick, at least not forever. As Georgetown shows, while a new name might stick around for a little while, eventually people are drawn back to historic names.

Georgetown preexisted the District of Columbia by fifty years. With the formation of the District, Georgetown remained an independent city under the umbrella of the new capital.

In 1871 the charter for Georgetown was revoked and the city was merged with the city and county of Washington. Ever since there have been no independent municipalities in DC.

In 1878, Congress revoked DC’s limited democracy and imposed an appointed commissioner system that lasted until 1967. In doing so, Congress redubbed Georgetown as “West Washington”. Continue reading

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Field Guide to Georgetown Homes: the Odd Ones Out

GM is off to Europe this week, in his absence enjoy this rerun of his series on Georgetown architecture:

This week GM has been delving into the varieties of historic architecture that we have around Georgetown. For the final installment he is going to highlight the odd ones out, in other words the homes that weren’t built in the dominant styles of Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Romanesque.

First up: Neoclassical

The Neoclassical style was born at the 1893 Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition, where some of the greatest architects of the time gathered to design a grand city of monumental buildings based in the classical style. Since nearly 26 million people visited the “White City”, this new style had wide exposure and quickly became a dominant building style in the early 20th century. Downtown DC was basically rebuilt in the White City’s image. Continue reading

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Field Guide to Georgetown Homes: the Early Victorian Period

GM is off to Europe this week, in his absence enjoy this rerun of his series on Georgetown architecture:

This week GM is exploring the variety of historical architectural styles around Georgetown. Today GM explores the early Victorian period.

The two styles that dominated early Victorian architecture were Second Empire and Stick. However, there are no examples of Stick architecture in Georgetown that GM could find (the Stick style is not surprisingly tailored to wooden homes, which was not a popular building material in bricky Georgetown). So for Georgetown early Victorian architecture means only Second Empire. Continue reading

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Field Guide to Georgetown Homes: The Romantic Period

GM is of to Europe this week, in his absence enjoy a rerun of his series on Georgetown architecture:

This week GM is exploring the varieties of historic architecture in Georgetown and offering a field guide to help you identify each particular style.

Today: Romantic Period

For American architecture, the Romantic period stretched from 1820s to the 1880s representing the last years of the Federal Period through to the middle stages of the Victorian Era. In Georgetown the two most common Romantic Period styles are Greek Revival and Italianate.

First up: Greek Revival.

Greek Revival style homes were the dominant style across the U.S. from 1830s to 1850s. So much so that it is also called the “National Style”.  Whereas Roman designs influenced the Federal period, increasingly intellectuals looked to Greece as the more appropriate model for the young democracy. Continue reading

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