The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Here's where they cleaned the streets in 1898

In 1898, streets in downtown DC got cleaned by hand every day, while many streets in Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and what's now NoMA got cleaned 3 times a week.

Georgetown BID head Joe Sternlieb has this old map hanging in his office. It shows the street cleaning system for the "City of Washington," which at the time was distinct from though by 1898, there wasn't still a formal distinction between the city and the surrounding Washington County that had made up the rest of the District.

The city did "daily hand cleaning" of roads for a few blocks around the White House, while downtown roads got "daily hand cleaning under contract." Other streets got "machine cleaning" 3, 2, or 1 time per week.

Today, many of the BIDs do have people doing some form of daily cleaning, such as picking up trash, while city cleaning is at most once a week. But probably the street sweeping trucks are more sophisticated today.

Oh, and there were public dumps ringing the city, along Rock Creek, in Columbia Heights, Near Northeast and along the Anacostia. Some of those sites seem to be on the grounds of schools today (such as Francis-Stevens and Meyer), while it looks like the one to the northeast of the city is where the NoMA Harris Teeter is today.

What do you notice?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

The City of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County actually merged in 1871.

by DC Streets on Mar 19, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I was going to say that red line doesn't really mark the "City of Washington".

by charlie on Mar 19, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

Streets were cleaned in the city "by hand" into the early 1990s, at least for many of the streets. One of the various job endeavors under the Marion Barry administration, although I don't know if the program was a holdover from the Walter Washington era and before.

The program ceased to exist during the financial crisis in the very early 1990s. I can't remember what year it stopped, 1991?, 1992?, 1993? H St. NE used to get cleaned that way, which is why I noticed.

by Richard Layman on Mar 19, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

Since it was less than 30 years later, they might have still thought of the L'Enfant City as the "real" Washington, like how some people in Brooklyn and Queens still refer to Manhattan as "the city."

by DC Streets on Mar 19, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

or it was a particular department.

Great find, though.

by charlie on Mar 19, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

A: These old maps are always depressing when they show you how much of South West we tore up for highways and super blocks.

B: A lot of the areas directly cleaned by DC are maintained by NPS now. When did NPS take over all of its properties that it has now in DC? (the mall, lafayette square, the circles and reservations, etc.)

by drumz on Mar 19, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Also of interest, the thick red border pretty well coincides with where plow pits were placed on the Capital Transit Streetcar track map. I always wondered what was a determining factor regarding where they were specifically placed. This helps shed light.

by A. P. on Mar 19, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

Check it out, this is back when 14th Street used to end (or, rather, bend) at what is now Ogden Street. The reason Ogden Street between 14th and 16th goes at such a weird angle to everything else around there is because it used to be the part of the winding continuation of 14th Street as "14th Street Road".

Some of what is now signed as 17th Street NW in Crestwood -- specifically, the part of 17th between Shepherd and Varnum that is at an angle to true north-south -- is also part of the old 14th Street Road.

by iaom on Mar 19, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

@ A.P.

The plow pits where at the edge of the L'Enfant City. That's because no overhead wires were (and still are officially) prohibited in the L'Enfant City. Because overhead wires are cheaper and easier to maintain, the transit companies switched to overhead wires a soon as they could once their tracks left the L'Enfant City.

by Sean on Mar 19, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

We should keep in mind that there were legions of horses on the streets, so the need for street cleaning was far, far higher. I wonder what the machines were?

by DavidDuck on Mar 19, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport


Yes, I recall folks cleaning the streets by hand - actually in 1994 and 1995, perhaps into 1996. They did 14th NW that way. I think you are mis-remembering when the fiscal crisis was - I don't know exactly but it seems like 95-96...

by DavidDuck on Mar 19, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

I'm kind of delighted to learn that street sweepers have existed since the 1840s. Had not been aware they so thoroughly predated the widespread implementation of paved roads.

by Bossi on Mar 19, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport


What a find! I opened it up, hoping for pdf that I could download and explore in more detail. Can you so arrange?

More important are the details about the widths of various streets and avenues, this just a year prior to the adoption of the Height Act of 1899, but a few years after the "upstart" Cairo reached for the skies above. Good heavens. But that text is so small that even at full screen it is difficult to make out the details. Can you extract an image of just that part of the overall map, as you did with the details of sweeping frequency, please? Thank you.

by Lindsley Williams on Mar 19, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

It would appear that my ancestors had daily hand cleaning on their block at the time of this map's publication. How nice for them!

by Michael_G on Mar 19, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

Can anybody comment on why the DC grid isn't regular? Some places the blocks seem square, and others they have the Manhattan-like streets/avenues rectangular quality.

by alpinepaq on Mar 19, 2014 4:50 pm • linkreport

@Lindsley Williams - click on the image above and then, in the new screen, click on it again. It should magnify it.

by 7r3y3r on Mar 19, 2014 4:52 pm • linkreport

Lindsley: This is just a photo I took of the map with my camera. As 7r3y3r said, you can click on the map to get the full version I have, but I don't have it at even better resolution so you can see the street names. I will try to get that sometime.

by David Alpert on Mar 19, 2014 5:40 pm • linkreport

Not sure why the grid isnt uniform. Typically blocks are longer in one direction than the other. Say 200' by 300' but it looks like they are bigger in some cases. I'd guess it has to do with the overlay of diagonal avenues that L'enfant conceived of as the main design element, the grid was probably secondary.

by BTA on Mar 20, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

I'm assuming that most of what they were cleaning up was horse droppings. That must have been disgusting.

by TakomaNick on Mar 20, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

1. Some blocks in the L'Enfant Plan were designed to be bigger, e.g., in the Eastern quadrants the 600 and 1200 blocks are double width going east-west, while the 1300 block is a triple sized block. There are variations going north-south too.

2. DavidDuck -- u r right about the specific time when the s* hit the fan, but the city's budget was running into problems before it creaked to a halt. But yes, what you saw on 14th st. with cleaning was part of the same program.

by Richard Layman on Mar 20, 2014 12:44 pm • linkreport

Anyone else notice the streetgrid to the east of the MacMillan but to the west of N. Capitol?

by Andrew on Mar 20, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

Not to beat this to death, but this "City of Washington" thing has been interesting to me for a while. There is a law in the DC code, I think from 1895, which says that the original city of Washington and the original city of Georgetown together are to be known as the City of Washington, the federal capital. Doesn't appear to be repealed. You can read it here:

by Derek on Mar 20, 2014 6:39 pm • linkreport

I love old maps. This one shows the Washington Branch of the B&O Railroad going northeast from Union Station, including a stretch adjacent to what is now Trinidad on what is now West Virginia Ave. That explains WVA Avenue's current arrow straightness.

by likedrypavement on Mar 21, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us