Lost Washington: Good Hope Road’s German orphanage
Good Hope Road SE, one of East Washington's historic thoroughfares, has been home to many places now forgotten. While still a pastoral area the arterial road hosted, from the late 1800s into the 1960s, an orphanage for children of German ancestry, one such place with an obscured memory.
Too rural for street addresses, the German Orphan Asylum at 2300 Good Hope Road wasn't given an address until 1945. It first opened its doors in August 1880. Today, the Marbury Plaza apartment complex looms over Good Hope Road where the orphanage previously stood.
"In the second half of the nineteenth century, Washington's native-born and immigrant German population was significant in numbers," writes Mona E. Dingle in 1996's Urban Odyssey, A Multicultural History of Washington, DC. At their peak presence, Germans represented 10% of the city's population, significantly less than Chicago and Baltimore where nearly one-quarter of city residents were of German ancestry.
With an increase in the city's German population, a concern emerged to care "for orphans and the aged." In 1879 parishioners of Concordia German Evangelical Lutheran Church at 20th & G Street NW began to raise money for an asylum for needy German orphans. With financial support from leaders within the city's established and emerging German American community, the "German Protestant Orphan Asylum Association of the District of Columbia" was incorporated with a twenty year charter from Congress. The Protestant designation was later stricken from the title to allow admission of children of other religions and eventually non-German children were accepted.
"Admission requirements, based on race and age, stipulated that a child must be of the white race … at least three (3) years old but not over eleven (11) years,'" according to Louise Daniel Hutchinson's seminal 1977 work, The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930. These restrictions were relaxed in later years.
Before the turn of the century, the German Orphan Asylum was one of the first institutions built for the care and welfare of children in Anacostia, but other charitable efforts soon followed. The Stoddard Baptist Home for "colored elderly and indigent women" was founded in the Garfield community near Hamilton Road, present-day Alabama Avenue. In 1904 the Episcopal Diocese expanded its work to provide "for winter service to homeless children at Anacostia, D.C." according to Hutchinson.
Local beer manufacturer Christian Heurich, known for his popular "Senate" beer, was one of the earliest benefactors of the German orphanage. Later contributors included local department store owner Julius Garfinckel.
Simon Wolf, a German Jewish immigrant and successful lawyer, assisted the orphanage, with funding from Congress, in purchasing the 32-acre Good Hope Hill Farm from Captain Samuel G. and Flora Cabell in what is today the Fairlawn neighborhood. With the help of Wolf and friends of the asylum, a new brick building was constructed and dedicated in October 1890. The asylum had formerly occupied space in downtown Washington.
"The new two-story home, perched on top of Good Hope Hill measured 52 feet x 100 feet, and was designed to accommodate up to 80 children," according to, "To Help A Child: The History of the German Orphan Home," an article in the 2006 edition of Washington History by local historian Anna Watkins.
According to Census records from 1900, the orphanage had 52 "inmates" and was run by the Henry and Elizabeth Harrold along with their four daughters and one son.
The board of directors controlled the admission and release of the children, and selected their schools until they reached the age of about 14. The youngsters were then placed in carefully surveyed homes where they worked as household help or nannies, or were assigned as an apprentice to a trade or profession. The board retained responsibility for the children until they reached legal adulthood. The older adolescents attended public school in Anacostia, while the younger ones prepared for school at the asylum.
The orphanage taught, studied, and used both German and English. Due to the national mood during World War I, the board decreed in 1918 that use of the English language would take precedent "because we must show ourselves thoroughly patriotic and loyal; we are American in every sense of the word and proud of it." During this time the American flag was raised daily on the main building. However, in 1929, when an illustrated 50th anniversary history book was published, it was done so in both languages.
The Orphanage's relocation
With the growth and development of Washington following World War II the neighborhood dynamics around the orphanage began to change.
"Increasingly developed with housing and institutions, the area was no longer conducive to having children do farm chores as heavy traffic sped down the hill bordering the property," according to Watkins. Long-time Superintendent George Christman "noticed that more people were walking across the home's grounds. Some ran dogs on the property, teenagers had parties and played games there displaying loud and annoying behavior, and drunks used the front steps to take a rest."
With the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 and other factors, such as the construction of the Barry Farm housing development and urban renewal of the SW waterfront, the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods began to shift. Herein the orphans began to face difficulties in the neighborhood schools.
The board began to consider relocating and selling their property on Good Hope Road. In early 1964, developer Charles Smith offered to rent the property for 99 years at a price that allowed the orphanage to relocate. The Smith Company would later demolish the facilities and build the present-day apartment complex Marbury Plaza.
Soon thereafter the directors of the orphanage purchased a large parcel of land in Prince George's County, opening a new home on Melwood Road in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in 1965. In December 1978, at the end of the semester, the orphanage closed to its last student.
- Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care?
- Alexandria has identified locations for its next 16 bikeshare stations
- To bike without worrying about nearby cars, I'm happy on the MBT
- Transit to Wolf Trap will still run through West Falls Church
- There's history to behold on some of DC's manhole covers
- Walkability by Metro line, graphed
- Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base