Citified

History

The shores of the Anacostia River were home to human settlements dating as early as 9500 BCE, with the river providing rich agricultural soil and a means of transportation for goods and people. The first large beginnings of the communities that would become today’s Far Southeast neighborhoods developed around the intersection of Good Hope and Naylor roads, where the ridge of Good Hope Hill crests, providing a breathtaking vista of Washington. Because this arduous road was one of the well-traveled entryways into the city from southern Maryland, one of the first businesses to appear there was a tavern offering sustenance to weary travelers. Shortly thereafter, a blacksmith shop and a stable were established; in the 1920s, with the advent of the automobile, a filling station was added. Today the tavern and stables are gone, but the gas station remains.

During World War II, thousands of people migrated to Far Southeast in order to work in Washington’s war-related industries, significantly changing its semi-rural nature. Many of these new residents had migrated from rural areas in the South, particularly from North and South Carolina. By the late 1960s, the development of high-density residential apartment projects, military bases, and other public facilities—attracted by cheap and vacant land—again transformed the neighborhood, but without the benefit of careful planning or community engagement.

Today, neighborhoods in Far Southeast are once again experiencing growth and rapid change, spurring residents to work together to ensure that arts activities and craft traditions remain an important part of community life. Residents are lobbying developers and city officials to address their concerns, reviewing the design of proposed public art installations, and fighting to protect local cultural assets in order to ensure that growth is well balanced and responsive to community needs.

Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River is produced in collaboration with the Anacostia Community Museum.

“I moved into the Barry Farm War Housing Project with my wife and son.... Most of the people who lived in the Barry Farm project were not from Washington. The families were from the eastern part of the country: Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina.... Most of the residents at Barry Farm worked in offices or as building attendants, janitors, or guards.”
—James Banks, D.C. housing official and former Barry Farms housing manager

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In the 1950s, the gas station on the corner of Good Hope and Naylor roads was a neighborhood landmark for the growing East of the River communities. Photo by John P. Wymer, courtesy of Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Did you know?

  • The land along the eastern shore of the Anacostia River was home to settlements of people dating as early as 9500 BCE. The Anacostia River and the community of Anacostia were named after the fortified Native American town of Nacotchtanke.
  • By 1830, The Anacostia River had silted up to the extent that large commercial or military vessels could no longer travel up the river to Bladensburg, Maryland, which had been planned as a major port.
  • Sites in Anacostia provide breathtaking vistas of the city of Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Capitol. One such site was the grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, an African American Catholic church established in 1920. Traditionally, neighborhood residents and church members gathered here on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks from the National Mall.
  • Go-go music was developed in Barry’s Farm and surrounding East-of-the-River communities in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Although Anacostia is often used to refer to all neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, the term accurately applies only to a single historic neighborhood, established in 1854. There are many distinct neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, each with its own history.
  • Anacostia’s most famous resident was Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and author, who lived there from 1878 until his death in 1895. In 1962, the National Park Service acquired his home, Cedar Hill, now known as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.