Friday, January 13, 2012

History redux: read a 1904 book about Columbia Heights

A few years ago I posted about this cool old book from 1904 about our neighborhood: "A statement of some of the advantages of beautiful Columbia Heights, a neighborhood of homes" by the Columbia Heights Citizen's Association. It's basically a PR piece about why you should move here, and it's an interesting read. A buddy just pointed out that you can now read it easily online, so I figured why not post it again so more people get a chance to see it? It's really fascinating, funny, and worth a read.

Aside from the general historical interest, there's also a lot of great old photos of buildings, some of which are still standing and some of which, unfortunately, aren't. There's sections on houses, apartments, the streetcar tracks, churches, streets, schools, police and fire, and other nearby sites. They also call it the "future home of the President," citing that apparently Garfield wanted to move here. You may recall that there was a lobbying effort to try to get the President to move to Meridian Hill, which obviously didn't happen.

The book also mentions a lot of street names you may not know, like Yale, Kennesaw, Binney, Roanoke, and others: most were renamed to their current names (you can see this map for more). Some, however, kept their old names, like Kenyon, Harvard, and Columbia. You may notice that many of these are colleges -- my guess is that's because the area is between Columbian College, which was located between 14th and 15th where Meridian Hill Park is now (and later moved to Foggy Bottom and became GW) and Howard University.

The last page has a description of why one person bought a house in the neighborhood:

A gentleman, of National reputation, who has just bought a house on Columbia Heights, thus summarizes:
"I bought on Columbia Heights because---
First. It is the highest point on the highlands surrouding the city. It offers me a cool retreat after a hard day's work, and is only twenty minutes' ride from my office.
Second. It is free from malaria.
Third. I am near enough to Rock Creek and the Zoo to enjoy their benefits to the full, and yet far enough away to be exempt from their discomforts or annoyances, day or night, incident to residence in the close proximity thereto.
Fourth: The Church and School facilities afforded here are unrivalled elsewhere.
Fifth: Four street car lines insure safe and rapid transit to and from every part of the city."

I'm so tired of getting malaria in downtown DC. Read on for more (and click the four arrows for a full-screen view.) I also like how they say "on Columbia Heights" rather than "in Columbia Heights."



  1. How interesting that they speculated the Presidential Mansion would be relocated to CH?!? I do think they did some reconstruction of the WH in the T Roosevelt Administration, so this rumor may have had some merit.

  2. The reason why Columbia Heights streets bear the name of colleges and universities dates back to the original marketing objective of the subdivision. Namely, to attract more affluent residents to Columbia Heights. (A more controversial marketing strategy was the inclusion of race-restrictive covenants in many of the original land deeds.) Some street names were changed around 1905, when the city required all street names to follow the alphabetically naming convention. However, the streets in Columbia Heights still observe the tradition of using college or university names.

  3. Interesting, thanks. Do you have a source for that? I've been trying unsuccessfully to find out more about the street naming.

  4. you really need t-shirts for the neighborhood:

    "Columbia Heights - It is free from malaria."

  5. @Andrew W - One good place to start would be George Washington Never Slept Here: Stories Behind the Street Names of Washington, D.C. by Amy Alotta (1993). Some details regarding the change in street names can be found in an article appearing in the New Names for Streets in North Washington, Washington Times (Aug. 1, 1905).


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