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Neighborhood Narratives: Anacostia

Anacostia, a name derived from the area’s early life as Nacochtank, a Native American settlement, has a long and rich history. The core of what is now the historic district was incorporated in 1854 as Uniontown and was one of the first suburbs in DC. At the time of the initial subdivision, anyone of African or Irish descent was prohibited from inhabiting the area via restrictive covenants. Because of this, In 1877, abolitionist Fredrick Douglass (the “sage of Anacostia”) bought Cedar Hill, an estate owned by the developer of Uniontown that sat just outside Anacostia. The site is still maintained today. Despite the initial restrictions, by 1888 fully fifteen percent of the inhabitants were African American. Designed to be available to Washington’s working class, many of whom were employed nearby at the Navy Yard on the Anacostia River, it was isolated from the city and therefore inexpensive. The neighborhood is relatively homogenous in its simple, standard homes, but the individually chosen details such as porches, roof lines, iron fencing and gable treatments are rich in character and variety. The frame houses are mostly Italianate and Cottage style, with Queen Anne examples and brick rowhouses interspersed. Once covered in marshy swamps, the area began to develop in the 1850s, saw a boom in military-fueled construction during the Civil War, grew again during the Great Migration of southern African Americans to the north, and once more during World War I with the addition of two military bases. Shopping, dining and entertainment facilities throughout greater Anacostia are somewhat limited, as development slowed due to a decrease in income in the area. Anacostia, however, since about 2005 has seen a resurgence in community interest with the focus on helping children and adults reach their full potential. Free summer evening jazz concerts are also given weekly in Fort Dupont Park — a park which had originally been a Civil War fortress. A large supermarket now services the area and an annual Martin Luther King Birthday Parade in April heightens the sense of community. After decades of neglect, Anacostia’s citizens are rallying to revitalize their neighborhood.