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Anacostia has changed a lot since 1892

Ghosts of DC posted an 1892 Map of Rural Anacostia earlier this week. I've made it into a graphic illustrating some of the other physical changes to the neighborhood and its surroundings in the last 120 years.

What first struck me about the map when I saw it was how close the banks of the Anacostia River were to the neighborhood. My knowledge of DC history is minimal, so I did not know that between 1882 and 1927 the tidal marshes along the edge of the Anacostia were filled in, creating what would today appear on a map as Poplar Point.

Clusters of single family homes were developed and remain intact in places such as north of today's Good Hope Road (in the Fairlawn neighborhood) and around Morris Road. In the next ring of development, south and east of here, small apartment buildings become the predominant land use. And over time (as early as 1900 with the development of the Nichols School, which is now the Thurgood Marshall Academy), larger footprint buildings sprouted up on and around today's Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road.

Future development plans suggest that the next phase of growth will follow a similar trajectory, with moderate densification of the main commercial corridors and substantial expansion into previously undeveloped land, in this case Poplar Point.

A version of this post originally ran at R. U. Seriousing Me?

Chris Dickersin-Prokopp spends his days in Anacostia and nights in Petworth. He studied Latin American Studies and Urban Planning. He runs the blog R.U. Seriousing Me? and occasionally contributes to the Washington City Paper


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Cool gif.

by Jasper on Jan 3, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

Very cool, I love doing these map overlays. What tools did you use to produce it?

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport


by h st ll on Jan 3, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Nice work, Chris. Thank you.

by John Muller on Jan 3, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Wow~ Such old. So history.

by doge on Jan 3, 2014 1:07 pm • linkreport

I read that some of that land, 'Anacostia Flats,' (today's Anacostia Park) was the main encampment of the protesting Bonus Army veterans in 1932 until they were forcefully removed by General Douglas MacArthur.

by Brett on Jan 3, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

How cool would it be to restore the tidal marshes? Buffer storms, clean the water, new habitat for fish and birds...

by Paul H on Jan 3, 2014 10:05 pm • linkreport

It could be cool but Anacostia riverside park is pretty popular as is.

by Drumz on Jan 4, 2014 12:43 am • linkreport

Maps from the late 1800's and early 1900's covering the east side of the Anacostia River in DC depict railroad tracks following that shore and then heading south to what is now Blue Plains and along the Potomac from their confluence. The Potomac was also filled, and from this all or some of the land where Blue Plains, Bolling AFB, the Naval Research Lab complex, etc. are now situated emerged.

by Lindsley Williams on Jan 4, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

In the early 1900's, my great-grandparents and their then-six children (including my grandmother) lived at 549 Harrison Street (now Good Hope Road). I have several photos of the family at that house -- a large Victorian style single-family house on a grassy hill, seven wide steps leading up to a large front porch with decorative railings, plain and fish scale siding on the house, a corner "tower" and windows with shutters. An elderly relative told me that my great-grandmother told him she used to go down to the river to pull water to bring back to the house (I assume for washing, etc. since the house would not have had indoor plumbing at that point). I would love to pinpoint where on your map that house was located (and wish it was still there, but I have looked!). Thanks for doing this map!

by Jackie on Jan 4, 2014 9:19 pm • linkreport

Jackie, if you can spare the time, you could visit the Washingtoniana Room, upstairs in the Martin L. King public library near Metro Center. They have numerous very old, large bound books of maps showing house plots and property ownerships in the city. Another source you can try is the Washington Historical Society.

by slowlane on Jan 4, 2014 9:55 pm • linkreport

Thanks, I will go there. I need more time to research all of the family history!

by Jackie on Jan 4, 2014 10:01 pm • linkreport

This is cool. I too was shocked to learn of the massive land fill when I took a historic tour of St Es. It had a warf and everything. Amazing and really a shame to have lost so much marsh.

by RobbyCU on Jan 5, 2014 4:12 am • linkreport

Much of the river was filled over the years. In fact there were about 2600 acres of tidal wetland in colonial times. Today there are about 120 acres. We have straightened and filed the river so that it is nothing like it was. This small river was a huge estuary that supported a large fishery.

The Federal government has amnesia when it comes to the incredible impact they have had on the river and the watershed. The feds currently own about 10% of the land in the watershed. They certainly need to "man-up" and do their share and more to restore this great river.

Someday, the Anacostia will be a destination like Central Park for people to enjoy, for a sustainable ecosystem, and to provide positive benefits for the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay. Maps like this help humanize the changes and help us all understand the impacts we have had.

Thanks for making the map!!

by Jim Foster on Jan 5, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

FWIW, most of the city has changed significantly since 1892, especially in the eastern quadrants and in upper northwest.

by Richard Layman on Jan 6, 2014 5:46 pm • linkreport


I did the overlay in ArcMap, which is a mapping program. You can add an image and then georeference it, manipulating it to line up with other features already in the map. The roads, rivers and buildings are all from the DC GIS data clearinghouse. I'm not sure if you can do something similar in Google Earth or another free alternative to ArcMap. You can do a lot of cool things with the new DC atlas though:

by Chris Dickersin-Prokopp on Jan 6, 2014 6:28 pm • linkreport

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