Posts Tagged Washington Post

Washington Post: Louise Daniel Hutchinson, scholar of black history, dies at 86


By: Emily Langer

Washington Post

October 25 at 4:25 PM

Louise Daniel Hutchinson, who gathered, documented and preserved African American history during 13 years as director of research at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington, died Oct. 12 at her home in the District. She was 86.

The cause was vascular dementia, said a daughter, Donna Marshall.

Mrs. Hutchinson spent much of her adult life working to collect and share with others the richness of African American history in Washington and beyond. After years of community activism, she joined the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (as it was then known) in 1974 and retired in 1987.

Under the leadership of founding director John R. Kinard, she oversaw exhibits covering years of history in the Anacostia community, the movement of blacks from Africa to overseas colonies and the life and accomplishments of Frederick Douglass, the former slave, abolitionist and distinguished writer.

She took particular interest in documenting the lives of African American women such as Anna J. Cooper, who was born into slavery and became a noted educator and equal rights advocate. “Even black history hasn’t given black women their proper place,” Mrs. Hutchinson once told the New York Times.

Gail Lowe, the Anacostia Community Museum’s senior historian, credited Mrs. Hutchinson with elevating the work of the research department and using individual life stories to illuminate broader history. “In telling the local stories,” Lowe said in an interview, “she validated community experiences.”
Mrs. Hutchinson was “a stickler for accuracy and authenticity,” Lowe said, and insisted that researchers keep magnifying glasses on hand for the close inspection of old photographs. Mrs. Hutchinson, Lowe recalled, spotted Harriet Tubman and W.E.B. DuBois in previously unidentified images.

“Because of the level and depth of her work,” Lowe said, “she was able to . . . provide accurate, documented information that other researchers and scholars relied on.”

Louise Hazel Daniel, one of nine children, was born June 3, 1928, in Ridge, Md., and grew up in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. Her parents, Victor Hugo Daniel and Constance E.H. Daniel, were teachers and friends of the African American intellectuals and educators George Washington Carver and Mary McLeod Bethune.

After graduating in 1946 from the old Armstrong Technical High School in the District, Mrs. Hutchinson attended colleges including Howard University and did secretarial work before beginning her career in historical preservation. In the 1970s, she assisted curators at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery with the selection of paintings featuring prominent African Americans, her daughter said.

Mrs. Hutchinson’s writings included the books “The Anacostia Story, 1608-1930” (1977), “Out of Africa: From West African Kingdoms to Colonization” (1979) and “Anna J. Cooper: A Voice from the South” (1981).

Mrs. Hutchinson’s daughter Laura Hutchinson died in infancy, and her son Mark Hutchinson died in 1974, at age 8, of a brain tumor.

Survivors include her husband of 64 years, Ellsworth W. Hutchinson Jr. of the District; five children, Ronald Hutchinson of Fort Washington, Md., David Hutchinson of Clifton Park, N.Y., Donna Marshall of Laurel, Md., Dana McCoy of the District and Victoria L. Boston of Clinton, Md.; two brothers, John Daniel of the District and Robert Daniel of Atlanta; a sister, C. Dorothea Lawson of Bay City, Tex.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

In addition to her museum work, Mrs. Hutchinson participated in initiatives such as the development of D.C. Public Schools curriculum in the 1980s that incorporated the roles of black leaders in local events.

“I have real concerns about accuracy of history,” she told The Washington Post. “I believe it must reflect [the] participation of all.”


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William Alston sentenced for attempted burglary & armed robbery [Washington Post, 27 April, 1972; B2]

William Alston _ sentenced 1972

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“Nine Arrested on Drug Charges After 2 1/2 Month District Probe” [Washington Post, June 2, 1980]

WP_6.2.1980 _ William Alston, 32 - distribution of drugsNine persons were arrested Saturday on drug charges stemming from a 2 1/2 month investigation of drug trafficking in far Southeast Washington and on the fringes of Capitol Hill.

Seven of the nine were arrested after an undercover office allegedly made 60 buys, mostly of heroin, from them during the investigation, according to narcotics detective Alan Penburg. More arrests are expected, he said.

The investigation, spearheaded by Sgt. Raymon Gonzales, concentrated on drug activity around Talbert Street and Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast and 15th Street and Independence Avenue east of the Capitol, he said.

The undercover officer purchased bags of heroin for $25 and $50, Penburg said.

Arrested and charged with distribution of heroin were Ralph Magruder, 32, of 1204 Talbert St. SE; William Alston, 32, of 1523 17th St. SE; Eugene Davis, 20, of 1227 Talbert St. SE; Andre Taylor, 19, of 1634 Independence Ave. SE; Keith Robinson, 23, of 2104 Savannah Terrace SE: John H. Mathis, 23, of 1147 Oates St. NE, and John E. Burroughs, 42, of 5405 21st Ave., Hyattsville.

Stephen S. Young, 36, of 183 Elmira St. SW, was charged with possession of marijuana and heroin and Robert E. Williams, 60, of 602 Tennessee Ave. NW was charged with distribution of Preludin.


“Nine Arrested on Drug Charges After 2 1/2 Month District Probe,” Washington Post, June 2, 1980, B5.

[Editor’s note: William Alston-El is a community activist and property manager in Anacostia and the surrounding environs today.]

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Rebels with a Cause; “Anacostia Unrest” [Evening Star, August 17, 1966]

Evening Star, August 17, 1966 (DC Public Library, Special Collections)

Evening Star, August 17, 1966 (DC Public Library, Special Collections)

On the night of Monday, August 15, 1966, racial tensions exploded in Anacostia. After the arrest of a black neighborhood teenager for assault on a white Maryland man provoked anger at police, hundreds of people protested in the street outside the 11th precinct headquarters at the junction of Morris Road, Nichols Avenue and Chicago Street. When officers brought in German Shepherds from a private security company, the crowd responded by throwing bottles, stones, and fireworks at the dogs. The police, in riot gear, charged the crowd, ultimately arresting at least 10 people. In the days that followed the city investigated the causes of the incident. Neighborhood groups of young people, including the Rebels with a Cause pictured here, organized to put pressure on the police to improve their relations with the community. Police quickly promised not to use dogs in the future, but the investigation would take more than a month to resolve itself. The incident hinted at the tense situation that the residents of Anacostia faced in dealing with the police nearly two years before the 1968 riots struck the entire city after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The full story of the 1966 Anacostia riot will be developed more here in the coming days.

“Probe Panel Named in Anacostia Unrest,” Evening Star. 17 Aug. 1966: A1. (Image on A4.)
“Probe is Set on Violence in Anacostia,” Washington Post. 17 Aug. 1966: A1.


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“Center for Anacostia Studies: Changing An Image” [Washington Post, October 23, 1975]

WP _ 10.23.1975 _ Center for Anacostia StudiesIf the Center for Anacostia Studies or the Anacostia Historical Society still exists, it is only in abstraction.

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Can the city save two historic abandominiums in Old Anacostia?

Old Anacostia’s abandominiums abide. Some vacant a matter of weeks, others a couple years, many a decade or two or three. “An entire generation of children have grown up in Anacostia only knowing a neighborhood of abandominiums,” says local activist William Alston-El.

“Big Green” at 1220 Maple View in Historic Anacostia was recently acquired by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

“Ask Rip Van Winkle; he could tell you the last time someone was living there,” Alston-El remarks as we stand in front of a two-story Victorian home at 1220 Maple View SE that has been abandoned for parts of six decades according to property records. A look down the street unfolds a panorama of the city with the Capitol Dome punctuating the skyline.

“The city owns it now. You think they’ll save it? They’re the only ones that can. They could if they wanted to but this isn’t the Anacostia people want to talk about.”

“Big Green” in old Anacostia has been vacant for parts of 6 decades, according to property records.

Teal paint still clings in places to the window frames of the home, known as “Big Green,” built in 1902 for N. R. Harnish, the shopkeeper at the Government Hospital for the Insane, just up Nichols Avenue, today Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Popular neighborhood myth has incorrectly held that the home was that of Dr. Charles H. Nichols, the first superintendent of the Government Hospital, today known as Saint Elizabeths. (Nichols died in December 1889 and lived on campus.)

By the late 1880s Harnish, an emigrant from Nova Scotia, was working at the Hospital and making $50 a month, according to government reportsIn 1901, Harnish was making more than $65 a month, and his wife, Annie, was making $18 as the assistant storekeeper. The next year, Harnish applied for a building permit to construct a two-story, multi-family dwelling for an estimated cost of $4,000.


View of the side of “Big Green” with 2/3 of a new foundation and boards holding up the home’s rear.

In August 1933, at the age of ninety-one, Nathaniel Robert Harnish passed away at his home. His funeral was held at Emanuel Episcopal Church at 13th and V Streets and he was interred at Rock Creek Cemetery. In February 1952, Annie S. Harnish, a resident of Washington for more than 60 years, passed away at 1220 Maple View Place. She was 98 years old. In November the property was transferred to a new owner, Rose Lawler, pursuant with Harnish’s will. In September of 1954 the home’s deed of trust was mortgaged by the Anacostia Federal Savings and Loan Association for $9,5000 with monthly payments of $71.25. A decade later, the house was returned to Lawler.

Ad from the January 1965 Washington Post for 1220 Maple View Place.

Soon thereafter, in late 1964, the home was advertised in the Post as being “VACANT – DECORATED.” The listing for 1220 Maple View SE read, “DETACHED TWO FAMILY, 2 klts., 2 baths, 10 rms., full bsmt., auto. heat., conv. area.” The ad ran for a number of months.

It is unclear from subsequent property and tax records when the house was next occupied. In conversations with area residents it appears the home may have been lived in for a short period during the 1980s. Other residents, such as Alston-El, are unable to confirm this, believing the home to be vacant for more than three decades. According to property records, Citicorp foreclosed on the home in March of 1990 when more than $19,000 was owed on the principal of the mortgage. According to property records and a 1992 real estate assessment directory, the home was purchased in May 1990 for $50,000 by a private individual. It has been continuously vacant since, with the exception of the occasional squatter or alley cat.

In recent years only squatters and alley cats have dared enter 1220 Maple View Place.

A number of years ago what remained of the decaying wrap-around porch was removed. More recently, in late 2005 and early 2006, a new foundation was laid in the back two-thirds of the home with original brick remaining towards the front. The rear has been held up from collapse by a weathered series of boards that extend at a 45 degree angle into the ground, nearly extending into the alley.


The rear of 1220 Maple View Place SE is held up by a series of boards.

The rear of 1220 Maple View Place SE is held up by a series of boards.

On May 20 the Department of Community and Housing Development secured the tax deed for just under $38,000. The proposed 2015 property value of the home and land are $157,470. According to a local developer familiar with historic preservation efforts in Anacostia, the cost of a full restoration could run well over a million dollars. “You could spend easy a half-million before you even start on the inside work. It’s leaning. It has to be stabilized. It could need a new roof, you got the porch to restore. It’s not going to be cheap,” the developer said on condition of anonymity.

Carol Goldman, President of The L’Enfant Trust wrote in an email,”I think ‘Big Green’ could well be a six figure rehabilitation project. In the Trust’s model, it would take charitable funding as well as and end user dollars – for example a veterans group, workforce housing group, or for an arts/community/education center.”

Does DHCD have a restoration plan for 1220 Maple View Place SE? Can the house be saved or will it vanish while under the city’s care like 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE?

In order to save the home, the city will have to act quickly, likely selling the property for a $1 and substantially subsidizing its restoration with grants. Through decades of private inattention and a lack of aggressive enforcement of public policies intended to prevent the demolition by neglect of old Anacostia, the razing of the property may be inevitable.

The acquisition of “Big Green” swells DHCD’s portfolio of abandominiums within Anacostia to over a dozen vacant residential and commercial properties. Here’s a look at another agency property in immediate need of preservation and restoration.

1326 Valley Place SE

Valley Place SE in 1885. Photo from the Historical Society of Washington.

In 1885 local streetcar president Henry A. Griswold built five detached single family homes as the first development to line Valley Street in Uniontown. To generate interest in his properties, which were built on speculation, Griswold put trees in front of each home and had a photograph taken that he distributed throughout the neighborhood.

The first 5 homes on Valley Street SE shown on an 1887 Hopkins Real Estate Map. Photo from DC Public Library, Special Collections.

In the mid-1930s a room for rent at 1326 Valley Place was advertised for $20 per month in local newspapers. By the late 1930s Earl Von Reichenbach, a prominent local architect, lived at the home with his son and dog. During World War II the address is listed for a GI returning to Washington but otherwise the public record on the home is rather bare. In 1985 the home was listed in a legal notice printed in the Post seeking owners of abandoned property. A private individual appears to have made a claim of ownership to the city but never acquired the deed.

1326 Valley Place in Historic Anacostia in 2010 before being re-acquired by the city.

According to property records, 1326 Valley Place was sold by the city in 2005 at a foreclosure auction for $2,044.14 to Darwin Trust Properties, LLC. Darwin Trust’s CEO was incarcerated while the city pursued legal action against the company under the demolition by neglect statute, one of only two times the city has prosecuted the statute. Through the litigation, the city was able to get a court order to let DCRA abate the property.

1326 Valley Place SE was cut in half a number of years ago to prevent further deterioration.

At some point in recent memory an industrial machine was brought in to cut off the rear of the home as though it was a loaf of bread. This was done in an effort to prevent further deterioration of the room which still has its original banister.

After half a decade of further deterioration, the city finally re-acquired the property in a November 2011 foreclosure sale for just under $12,000. According to a 2015 proposed tax assessment, the house is worth less than $2,500 and the land is valued $125,330 for a total of $127,750. In 2011 the property had a value of $135,900.

The contrast between 1326 Valley Place and 1328 Valley Place.

Last year the exterior of 1328 Valley Place SE, next door and one of the original five homes on the street, was fully restored, in part through a popular grant program coordinated by the Historic Preservation Office that targets 14 Historic Districts citywide. Given the historic character of 1326 Valley Place, we hope the city finds a way to restore what’s left. The rebirth of old Anacostia cannot occur with the continued neglect and slow death of one of the oldest homes in the city’s first subdivision.

Built in 1885, 1326 Valley Place SE hangs on for dear life in old Anacostia.

Can public policy save the homes?
DHCD is in the business of acquiring property within the purview and purpose of economic development. Preservation is not within their mission. The condition of 1220 Maple View Place and 1326 Valley Place is a result of decades of collective public and private neglect. As a last resort of preservation, the two properties have been acquired by the city. Now an effective policy or set of policies must be implemented to save these homes. Nothing less than the survival of old Anacostia is at stake.


A cluster of city-owned abandominiums at the top of Maple View Place and High Street in Anacostia were razed last summer.

Previous efforts have been made. For example, to apply pressure on owners of vacant and blighted properties, city legislators passed the “Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Support Act of 2010” which created a Class 3 property tax rate for vacant commercial and residential properties and a Class 4 tax rate for blighted properties. Class 3 properties are taxed at $5 per $100 of assessed value, Class 4 properties $10 per $100 of assessed value.

In contrast, Class 1, residential real property including multi-family, are assessed at $0.85 per $100, and Class 2, commercial and industrial, are taxed $1.65 per $100 up to the first $3 million of assessed value, and $1.85 for value exceeding $3 million.

1648 U Street SE in old Anacostia has been owned by the city since 2004.

This well-intentioned policy may cause vacant and blighted properties to rebound in strong markets such as Bloomingdale, Capitol Hill, Columbia Heights, Eckington, LeDroit Park and Shaw but in Anacostia the market is too soft for a return on investment. The risk in the private market is too great.

The L’Enfant Trust expects to put 1347 Maple View Place SE (pictured here) and 2010 14th Street SE on the market this fall.

As mentioned last monthThe L’Enfant Trust is putting more than $600,000 in grant money, pro-bono construction work and material donations towards each of the two homes the organization is restoring in Anacostia. They anticipate selling the homes for $350,000. For years restoration projects have stalled or stopped entirely. The Trust has moved according to its schedule in returning the properties to productive use. Their work is a ready and ongoing model for the city to follow.

Last summer, Aaron Wiener at the City Paper wrote about a property in Park View that shares a similar background as the two properties the city has acquired in old Anacostia.

To save these abandoned properties, he suggests, the “solution could be to bring the identification, acquisition, and disposal of vacant and blighted properties under a single agency with broader powers (and better funding for purchasing properties) than any of the relevant offices currently have. It could be a new budget initiative devoted exclusively to this purpose, or a law making it easier to tackle the legal hurdles to acquiring orphaned properties, or some combination.”

The “piecemeal approach we have now” harms neighborhoods citywide and has slowly destroyed some of the oldest homes in Anacostia. It is a tragedy so many homes have already been lost. Once these homes are gone they only exist in old newspapers, maps, property records, memories and blog posts. We need to do everything to save them while we still can.

What do you think? Should these houses be saved? Can they be saved? We hope so.

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Wash Post: Busboys and Poets owner plans Anacostia restaurant and training program

Busboys and Poets owner plans Anacostia restaurant and training program

Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets and recent candidate for D.C. mayor. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets and recent candidate for D.C. mayor. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

In his Busboys and Poets restaurants, owner Andy Shallal frequently weaves together food and drink with arts, music and performance space. 

With his newest project he may be adding a new component: education and job training.

Shallal recently signed a letter of intent to open a restaurant in a former furniture store on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast, in Anacostia, according to two sources familiar with the deal. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because a final agreement has not been signed.

The property, located at 2004-2010 Martin Luther King, would have a Shallal restaurant on the first floor that would be combined with a culinary training program.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which supports community development projects in D.C. neighborhoods, has signed on as an investor in the project. Shallal declined to comment.

Shallal, a recent candidate for D.C. mayor, may soon have restaurants in all corners of the city. If he opens a Busboys at the location it would likely be his seventh in the region and it would be the first of his popular restaurants to open east of the Anacostia River. He is opening a fifth Busboys in Takoma and will open a sixth in Brookland this fall.

Shallal made economic development a major part of his mayoral campaign platform, proposing to fund more programs for job readiness and working to reduce poverty by creating good jobs. He repeatedly pledged to open a restaurant east of the river and said recently that he was considering multiple locations in Anacostia.

Unlike many neighborhoods in Northwest, where restaurants have been opening at a breakneck pace, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue has added bits of retail in fits and starts during the past few years. The two-story brick building – long adorned with an America’s Furniture sign — has been vacant in recent years but was purchased in late 2012 by the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, for $2.2 million. 

The former furniture store, on Martin Luther King, will be renovated into a restaurant and office space (Jeffrey MacMillan - Capital Business)

The organization, founded in 1996, connects children and families in Ward 8 to safety net services and has been eliciting input from residents about what they would like to see added to the neighborhood.

“Once we purchased the property on MLK we engaged the community in a series of conversations to really hear about what they saw as needs in the community, and what they would like to see on the avenue and in the space,” said Perry Moon Jr., executive director of the group.

The collaborative plans to build its new offices on the second floor of the building, where it will relocate from the Anacostia Professional Building down the street. Moon declined to discuss the plans for the first floor but said residents wanted “training programs that led to employment” and that part of that meant “bringing retail in the community and opportunities for folks to do stuff in their own community.”

Basic demolition work has begun and Moon said that once construction begins it should last about a year.

“Most people who live in this community, their desires are pretty similar. So it’s really our goal to help kind of be a catalyst for economic development as part of our mission,” he said.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

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Police look for shell casings on the estate of Frederick Douglass; 3 shot in Historic Anacostia on Easter Sunday

Police look for shell casings on grounds on FDNHSThe Southside is the apocalyptic side of the metropolis.

Around each corner in Anacostia is an unknown glimpse of either a faded and forgotten history or a seemingly random outburst of violence. In recent weeks a half-dozen shootings and homicide within the boundaries of old Anacostia have encircled the home of Frederick Douglass. A daylight running gun battle at the junction of 14th Street, Cedar Street and High Street left three wounded this past Easter Sunday.

“The devil doesn’t recognize any holidays; he doesn’t take the day off,” says William Alston-El, a community activist. “I haven’t seen it this bad in years.”


NBC Washington, 4.21.2014, “Police Investigate Triple Shooting in SE DC

Washington Post, 4.20.2014, “3 men shot in Southeast

WJLA, 4.20.2014, “Three shot, 1 seriously wounded near Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Homicide Watch, 4.9.2014, “Tuesday Night Shooting Victim Identified as Virgil Wood

Washington Post, 4.9.2014, “Man fatally shot on street in Anacostia

WUSA, 3.14.2014, “Police hunt for suspect in SE shooting death

Washington Post, 3.14.2014, “Police seek four men in Southeast Washington shooting death

Neighbor testimonials via 7th District listserv

Apr 14, 2014, at 12:36 PM,

Commander Hoey,
I must state that I’m happy to see shooting abatement in some parts of SE. However, that is not so at 16th & V Streets. Since yesterday evening, 4/13/14, yes, Palm Sunday, a female was shot as she stood in that vicinity speaking with other young men. Of course this is the same area where a young man was killed on April 8, 2014.  
There are elderly residents living in single family detached homes between 16th-15th Streets on V (1500) block that are afraid to sit on their porches on beautiful days because of the drive by shootings in area. Anyone can become a victim in such situations. This is a very active crime ridden (shooters’) area & I believe one way some of this can be solved is to implement an enforcement policy – such as in Trinidad – where if you don’t live there, you can’t loiter there; ask for i.D. & send  them away. Constitutional rights are yelled about, but non-criminal have rights also. Extreme times calls for extreme measures & SE residents have to ban & support extreme measures to rid these shootings. Prohibiting guns from non-criminals have not abated the shootings in SE. I’m afraid to walk on Good Hope between 16th -MLK because of the congregants of unsavory characters along those blocks…just hanging out! Some months ago, a bullet landed in my roof.
Commander Hoey, what is the condition of the lady shot? Have you any suspects in custody yet?
Mary Buckley – Ward 8 Good Hope Road



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2004 Washington Post election profile of Cardell Shelton

Cardell Shelton (R)
Age: 74
Residence: Congress Heights.
Education: Completed courses at various universities.
Occupation: Building trades instructor, building inspector, construction contractor.
Office Sought: D.C. City Council Ward 8 

Extra-curricular activities:
Commissioner, ANC 6C07, 1980-92; member, D.C. Republican Party, American Legion, National Association of Disabled Veterans, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Southeast Business Merchants Association, D.C. Contractors Guild.

Why should voters elect you?
“I understand the needs of my people in Ward 8 and will work to make life better for all the residents of this ward.”

What do you think is the most urgent problem facing your jurisdiction?
“Education. A community center and a hands-on, earn-while-you-learn survival training school are needed. Teach our people to love and respect themselves, the community and their lives. Teach them the discipline of life, to respect their job, to have a good work attitude (such as reporting on time and performing). Teach them how to become law-abiding citizens. Also important are the functioning of the D.C. government, health care and rental housing for singles.”

Web site: None given.
Email address: None given.


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In Faraway, All-White Anacostia; Area Failed to Fit Builders’ Vision [Darryl Fears, The Washington Post, 26 June 2000: A.1]

During Washington’s bicentennial year as the U.S. capital, another in a monthly series on the people and events that shaped this city.

Near the muddy edge of the Eastern Branch river, under towering trees with gorgeous emerald leaves, real estate developer John Van Hook and his partners subdivided their land into a few hundred housing lots and put them up for sale.

The year was 1854. They named their subdivision Uniontown, evoking patriotic emotions, although they built it purely for profit and for whites only. If they realized they were creating Washington’s very first suburb, they didn’t acknowledge it.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Congress had recently built a bridge over the river from the Washington Navy Yard, giving workers there access to Uniontown. People were getting tired of living in the congested city. Day and night, horses pulling carriages trotted on dirt and cobblestone streets, kicking up dust and causing an annoying racket, like hundreds of hollow coconut shells constantly banging together.

To show his faith in Uniontown, Van Hook built a nine-acre personal residence on a hill overlooking the development, at Pierce and Jefferson streets. It was a stately white-brick gabled, center- hall country house with fluted wood columns and a latticework porch.

But after six years, Van Hook’s house overlooked what amounted to a ghost town. “Although most of the Uniontown lots had been sold by 1860, the community had few settlers,” Louise Hutchinson wrote in her book “Anacostia Story,” which was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Neighborhood Museum.

“A study of the grid map for the next quarter of a century discloses that homes were built at the average of four a year during that period. This was hardly the response the proprietors had expected.”

Van Hook’s original idea of Uniontown–loosely bounded by what was then called the Eastern Branch River, Morris Road and Good Hope Road- -further unraveled after the Union Army’s victory in the Civil War. There were so many Uniontowns that the Post Office had trouble delivering mail. Congress dealt with the confusion, in part, by changing Van Hook’s Uniontown to Anacostia, after the original Indian name.

The area known as Historic Anacostia covers the original Uniontown, but today Anacostia is generally considered to be the network of neighborhoods that includes Barry Farms, Congress Heights and Fort Dupont Park.

For Uniontown’s founder, the problems didn’t end with the name change. On May 4, 1871, a newspaper notice announced that Van Hook’s house was being put up for auction after he lost a lawsuit.

“By virtue of a decree of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, passed in equity cause No. 988, docket 8, George W. Miller et al. vs. John W. Van Hook et al., the undersigned, Trustees, will sell at public auction . . . at 5 o’clock p.m., on the premises,” the notice read. A third of the money was payable in cash, and the rest within a year in monthly installments.

Six years after the auction, Van Hook’s grand estate got a new owner he would have had trouble imagining. Breaking the whites-only ban at Uniontown was one of the nation’s most prominent black citizens, Frederick Douglass.

Douglass moved to Anacostia with his wife Anna after he was selected as a regent for the County of Washington, District of Columbia. He was a former slave and a famous abolitionist.

He bought Van Hook’s house with money borrowed from a friend. He particularly liked the flower and vegetable gardens and the barn. A year later, in 1878, Douglass bought the adjoining home held by the heirs of George Washington Talbert, expanding the original Van Hook property by six acres.

Douglass’s presence in the house made it famous. After his wife died in 1882, Douglass left the house. He returned two years later with a white bride, Helen Pitts Douglass. When the abolitionist died in 1895, the historical society named after him preserved the home, opening it for public view in 1901.

In 1962, Congress entrusted the house to the National Park Service, and the crumbling property was fully restored 10 years later at a cost of $3 million. Van Hook’s name is rarely mentioned in connection with the house he built.

But Van Hook is only one of a cast of thousands who are missing in action from the known history of Anacostia.

Indians who migrated from Delaware to the Chesapeake Bay region were the first to settle in Anacostia, and the first to go. The migrants eventually formed the Piscataway nation and enjoyed the land for at least 3,000 years before European settlers arrived and embarked on a pogrom that decimated them.

Piscataway translates to “where the waters blend.” The Indians were a part of the Lenni Lenape people of Delaware before slowly migrating south and forming the Piscataway. A faction of that tribe called itself the Anacostans. They grew corn, hunted wildlife and fished the Potomac River’s abundant tributaries until Capt. John Smith’s arrival in 1608, said Gabrielle A. Tayac, a sociologist who specializes in Native American culture.

“You don’t see Anacostans past the 1600s,” Tayac said. “There were 8,000 to 12,000 people when Smith arrived in 1608. By 1700, only 325 people were recorded.”

Smith is best known for his mythical romance with a Powhatan girl, Pocahontas, as retold in a popular Disney movie five years ago. If only that story were true. Pocahontas was kidnapped by a European raiding party, likely helped by Smith. She was about 13 years old at the time, and he was 27.

During the year of her captivity, Pocahontas converted to Christianity. In a tactic typical of the day, the girl was married to an Englishman, John Roth, who then prevailed upon her father, the chief, to transfer tribal land to Pocahontas’s name. After traveling to England, Pocahontas contracted smallpox and died.

Death by guns and germs was common to the Piscataway, as were forced reeducation and religious conversion. In the late 1600s, the last of them returned north to join the Iroquois. As they disappeared, so did their language.

Which is why the name Anacostia is suspect. Europeans clumsily attempted to reconstruct the meaning of a word they had heard only imprecisely: Anaquash(a)-tan(i)k. It means town of traders, or so people think.

This makes sense. When he first paddled down a tributary in a canoe, John Smith “met Indians in other canoes laden with the flesh of deer, bear and other wildlife indigenous to the area,” Hutchinson wrote.

English trader Henry Fleet, who followed Smith to the area in 1632, wrote that “the Indians in one night commonly will catch thirty sturgeon in a place where the river is not above twelve fathoms broad. And as for deer, buffaloes, turkeys, the woods do swarm with them, and the soil is exceedingly fertile.”

Fleet’s letters led land-hungry colonists to Anacostia in droves. Early on, it was clear that the land wasn’t big enough for both the settlers and the Indians.

Skirmishes between the two led to vicious wars between settlers and natives. As Indians disappeared, the way of life shifted. Instead of maize, European farmers favored a new cash crop–tobacco. It took backbreaking labor to work the land.

Another European trade offered a solution: African slaves. Around the mid-1600s, black men and women were pouring into Jamestown and were marched through the towns and forests to Anacostia and the rest of Maryland.

The more money a master made from his tobacco crop, the more land he bought. More land meant more slaves. In 1671, the Maryland legislature acted to protect the investment of slave owners, adopting brutal slave codes to control the workers.

A slave couldn’t freely travel. A slave who struck a white person had his or her ears cropped. A 1729 law called for slaves who committed certain crimes to be not only hanged but bodily quartered for public view.

Native Indians of the Anacostia region were not immune to such treatment. Slave raiding parties captured many, who were sent to work in the Caribbean. Soundly beaten by germs, guns and reeducation, most Piscataways finally marched north to join the Iroquois tribe of the New York region.

During a visit to Anacostia in 1759, George Washington wrote glowing accounts of the Potomac River and its tributaries as “well stocked with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year.” He fell in love with the place, and three decades later, he approved of the plan to put the nation’s capital there.

By the time Van Hook and partners John Fox and John Dobler established Uniontown more than a half-century later, St. Elizabeths Hospital had been founded nearby. Its patients, Union Army soldiers supposedly driven mad by war, were among the area’s first neighbors.

Times were changing rapidly. The land was growing barren, the soil depleted by years of growing tobacco. Even the Potomac River and its tributaries were devoid of life, having been overfished. The waters also suffered because of chemical runoff from the vast Washington Navy Yard.

Other change was happening as well. Quietly, Anacostia slaves like Alethia Browning Tanner purchased their freedom; they later erected homes and businesses.

Resentful white residents destroyed many black homes, businesses and churches in the 1835 Snow Riot. But the march of black people into Anacostia couldn’t be stopped. After the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, former slaves could walk to the area from Washington across a pair of bridges Congress built over the river.

Anacostia became a beacon for black men and women who poured into Washington to record their names at the Freedmen’s Bureau. In response to a black housing shortage, Union Gen. Oliver Howard, chairman of the Freedmen’s Bureau, established Barry Farms near the former Uniontown as a free black community in greaterAnacostia.

After the war, Howard created an investment board that purchased $52,000 in land that could be sold, leased or rented to black people. Profits from the land sales and leases helped create another Washington landmark, Howard University.

After 100 years, Van Hook wouldn’t have recognized the place he first settled. By 1940, Anacostia was 40 percent black. Over the next three decades, in the name of urban renewal, federal officials forced Washington’s poor into apartments and public housing the government built in Anacostia.

It was a move that bothered both white and black people in middle- class Anacostia. “The hillsides were scraped bare,” said Dianne Dale, who was growing up there at the time. “The influx of seven housing projects came . . . in the ’50s. Many of the people who came to the community were alley dwellers from Georgetown and slum dwellers from Southwest. They had to teach those people how to live because they came from out of the fields in the South, and they had no training. I don’t know how to put that delicately.”

By the 1960s, Van Hook’s whites-only section called Uniontown was 66 percent black. Today, that area is 98 percent black.

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