Many readers are aware that most streets in Georgetown used to have names different from their current ones. In fact, GM has long wished the city would erect some mementoes to the old names on the streetposts themselves. But one thing GM has only recently began to wonder is this: where did those names come from?
A bit of history first.
Georgetown was established as a new town in 1751 in the colony of Maryland. Upon being established, the first streets and building lots were laid out. This is the first map of Georgetown (actually, it appears to be a 19th century recreation of the original map):
There were only a handful of street names:
- What is now M St., west of Wisconsin Ave., was called Falls St.
- M St., east of Wisconsin Ave., was called Bridge St.
- Wisconsin Ave., north of M St., was called High St.
- Wisconsin Ave., south of M St., was called Water St.
- Confusingly, Water St. was called West Landing and Keys
- Roughly where K St. is now was called Wapping
- 33rd St., south of M St., was called Duck Lane
- 33rd St., north of M St., was called West Lane
- 31st St., south of M St., was called Fishing Lane
- 31st St., north of M St., was called East Lane (each of these “lanes” were probably closer to alleys than streets)
After a series of land additions through the second half of the 18th century, the streets of Georgetown took the form that they largely still have:
This 1814 map shows a complete street grid for the neighborhood, and contains the street names that would stick around until the street renaming in 1879. (The names were changed to help incorporate Georgetown with the rest of the District of Columbia, although, to be honest, geography continued to make that incorporation pretty attenuated.)
Some of the streets didn’t quite line up with the Washington street naming convention, and so the old names remained. That’s why we still have Dumbarton, Olive and Prospect, for example. But most were changed.
This is a story that GM has been familiar with for quite some time. But it was only recently that he began to wonder, “but wait, why were the old streets named the way they were?”
Some appear, at least at first, to be fairly self-evident. Bridge St. was literally the street that led to a bridge over Rock Creek. And Market St. led to the Georgetown Market (which was near the current Georgetown market building, i.e. the former Dean and Deluca). Continue reading