Greater Greater Washington

History


Before the Anacostia Metro, there were these houses

Across Howard Road SE from the Anacostia Metro station, the DC government wants to develop a vacant lot for affordable housing. The site was not always vacant; to build the Metro station three decades ago, 11 houses were razed. Here is their story.


DC plans to develop this vacant lot on Howard Road, SE. Photo by the author.

According to a detailed report from the Historic American Buildings Survey, Howard Road, SE was originally developed as part of the 375-acre Barry Farm, a model community for freed slaves initiated by General Oliver Otis Howard of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867.

By the turn of the 20th century, better transportation and citywide population growth had led many owners to subdivide the original one-acre lots. Housing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was distinctly urban, following narrow, side-hall plans suitable for the narrow street frontages of the new lots. In the Howard Road District, housing from the 1880's to the 1940s demonstrated how the once pastoral landscape gradually urbanized.


1023 Howard Road SE, razed to make way for the Anacostia Metro Station. Photo from the Library of Congress.

At the time of the survey in the mid-1980s, the buildings in the 1000 and 1100 block of Howard Road ranged in condition "from extremely deteriorated to fairly well kept." Four buildings were vacant and "had suffered varying degrees of vandalism." Six of the seven occupied properties "appeared to be adequately maintained." Nearly all of the homes had porches with lots that included small sheds and garages.

Due to the physical deterioration of the homes and their association with a criminal element it was apparently justified to demolish and clear the properties.

1010 Howard Road


1010 Howard Road SE, circa 1985. Photo from the Library of Congress.

In April 1929, Maggie Sharp of 1010 Howard Road SE died at the age of 61. Nearly a decade later, in June 1938, her husband, Lloyd, died in the home. He was 76.

Police raided 1010 Howard Road in September 1953. They arrested Daniel Ferguson on charges of operating a lottery, and his wife, Lucille Ferguson, on charges of keeping and selling whiskey without a license. According to a story in the Post, "Police said Ferguson, who had three numbers books and a quantity of numbers slips in his possession, ran into an undercover man as he attempted to run out of the back door." In October 1954 Ferguson was indicted as part of a "$1500-a-day lottery ring."

Lucille, apparently living by herself, died on September 20, 1972, according to a death notice in the Evening Star. According to property records the home, which was built in the early 1880s, sat vacant for more than a dozen years before WMATA seized it.

1004 Howard Road SE


1004 Howard Road SE, circa 1985. Photo from the Library of Congress.

In early November 1981, two men entered the home of 86-year invalid Rosella Newman. The would-be-robbers found Newman, who had grown up in the home, in her bed and shot her dead. The home remained empty until WMATA seized and demolished it.

Howard Road Then & Now


1959 Baist Real Estate Map showing Howard Road SE where today is the Anacostia Metro station and bus terminus. Photo from the DC Public Library, Special Collections.

Before the the Anacostia Metro station opened in 1991, the houses faced another demolition threat from the then-new Bolling Air Field in 1943. A legal notice printed in newspapers said the government may take the homes "for the construction of a military access road from Bolling Field to the District of Columbia." But subsequent newspaper accounts and period real estate maps show that residents of Howard Road were momentarily spared.

As plans the current Metro system were developed during the 1960s and 1970s, residents in the greater Anacostia and Barry Farm communities did not apparently object to losing the homes on Howard Road. According to a 1979 article in the Post, "The new proposal [to build the Anacostia Metro station] would require a relocation of 12 residential units, most of them in tiny, decrepit apartment buildings on the south side of Howard Road; three business, one church and the J. Finley Wilson Memorial Lodge No. 1731."

At a meeting that attracted 50 area residents, "Nobody fought for the buildings, but some expressed concern about the impact of heavy Metro traffic on children attending nearby Nicholas [sic] Avenue Elementary School (today Thurgood Marshall Academy]."

Although a federal judge's 1983 ruling temporarily halted construction of the Green Line through Anacostia, the future of the homes on Howard Road SE was a foregone conclusion. Bernard Gray, an attorney and long-time community activist in Historic Anacostia, said people did not try to save the homes on Howard Road, because they had become a source of blight and concern.

According to the 1985 report, "Preliminary examination of city directories, census and tax records for two periods (1899/1900 and 1909/1910) indicates that the subdivision and redevelopment of lots in the Howard Road neighborhood was not the work of large disinterested outside developers, but to a significant degree that of local, small-scale entrepreneurs, both male and female, many of whom lived on, or near, their subdivided lots."

Nearly thirty years later, life and residential and commercial use may finally return to this small corner of Howard Road SE.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia

Comments

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Interesting written history and photos - enjoyed it. Sort of shame to lose the historic building stock (decades ago) though they didn't seem to be in particularly good shape.

Sort of a problem throughout HA. The nabe seems to have more empty lots than other neighborhoods, even ones in worse financial shape. I attribute it to having more wood frame houses (just not as durable as brick) but would be interesting to hear what others think.

by h st ll on Jun 5, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

Anacosita, and east of the river in general, has a lot of dilapidation for two reasons: one, the housing stock was never as well built in the first place; and two, quite a few residents are too poor to maintain it properly.

While it can be sad to lose historic buildings, we need denser housing and we need higher quality housing than the historic buildings offer. I'm delighted to hear about this project- we need a lot more affordable housing near the metro than we have now, and this sounds like a good step. Here's hoping they do it right and put a nice big apartment or condo building there, not just a few detached SFHs.

by Zeus on Jun 5, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

It is remarkable how barren it is near the metro station. Sheridan Station is a nice step forward but there are so many other empty lots...

by h st ll on Jun 5, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Nice story!

The house you have listed as 1010 Howard looks a LOT like one that is still standing (and still boarded up) on Shannon Place. That's one of my favorite blocks in the neighborhood. You can see the house at http://goo.gl/maps/hdgUk

I wonder if they had the same builder?

by sbc on Jun 5, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

I can look into the building permit for the boarded up home on Shannon Place and post back what info I can gather.

Thanks for the question.

by John Muller on Jun 5, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

interesting post, John.

by CP on Jun 5, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

nice story but not quite how I remember it. The people living on Howard Road wanted to remain but felt they had no choice. Certainly, on the south side, the J. Finley Wilson Lodge did not want to move, but it sits directly where the station is now. no choice. I knew 2 families on the north and certainly did not want to move, especially since METRO did not need the space for the station, but METRO did need a site to assemble supplies and equipment and so those houses were taken. All that remains of the Howard Road I knew growing is the Bible Way Church, which did fight and kept their building and location.

by nivin on Jun 5, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Thanks for sharing your insights and memories, Nivin.

I had a hard time finding any information on how exactly Metro negotiated deals with the homeowners and/or seized their property. Do you remember how this happened? A couple people told me they remembered the homes being condemned but I couldn't confirm that.

Where was Bible Way? Is Bible Way today Revival Temple?

by John Muller on Jun 5, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

yes, the revival temple. as to the houses, I don't know specifically if they went through eminent domain(condemnation) or the family simply negotiated the best deal, but I know they felt they had to chance but to move.

by nivin on Jun 5, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

R.I.P. to Rosella Newman, a senseless act of cruelty to take her life so.

by Ray B on Jun 5, 2014 3:55 pm • linkreport

Here is their story... {Law and Order} Dun Dun!

by TimW on Jun 6, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

John, I love the history pieces you write, and that you find photos to go along with them. I'll bet there are photos, somewhere, of those houses (formerly) on Howard Road when the neighborhood was thriving, with families and children, etc. So sad to see how things went downhill, and so nice to see a glimmer of hope for the future.

by BikingMom on Jun 6, 2014 10:25 pm • linkreport

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