Posts about Barry Farm
For denizens of the Barry Farm community in Southeast Washington, the 19th century still holds strong at the corner
Zabia Dews, the "Mayor of Barry Farm," outside Charlie's Corner store at the junction of Sumner and Wade Roads SE. Photo by the author.
"Look up at these street names," says Zabia Dews, 63, of the 2700 block of Wade Road SE, pointing to signs above for the junction of Sumner Road SE and Wade Road SE. "There's a history here people don't know about, or they forgot. We can't let it disappear."
The original names remain today: Howard Road SE, which runs past the Anacostia Metro Station, for General Oliver Otis Howard; Sumner Road SE for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner; Wade Road SE for Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade; Pomeroy Road SE for Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy, an early member of Howard University's Board of Trustees; and Stevens Road SE for Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, prominently featured in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."
The James Barry farm
In 1801 the board of commissioners of the embryonic capital city wrote to the principal landholders "asking to be furnished with lists of lots sold by them." Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, Notley Young, a prominent plantation owner, and more than a dozen other men including James Barry, "one of the incorporators of the Washington Canal Company," received the letter.
"Mr. Barry was largely invested in business, both foreign and domestic, and he was very zealous as an advocate of the interests of the eastern section of the city, in opposition to the claims of the western section," according to the Records of the Columbia Historical Society.
More than 60 years later, in April 1864, the surveyor of Washington County (all land in the District east of the Potomac, outside of the L'Enfant Plan and Georgetown) was "instructed to stone the new road between the northwest and southwest boundaries of the Barry Farm, known as the Stickfoot Branch road," reported the Daily National Republican.
In September young men were drafted off the farm to fill President Lincoln's call for a half million more Union troops. By now the Barry Farm, across the Eastern Branch from the Washington Navy Yard, was sandwiched between the United States Government Hospital for the Insane (Saint Elizabeths) which saw its first patient in 1855 and Uniontown (Anacostia), the city's first subdivision.
At this time, during the Civil War, the city was brimming with "the floating colored population" of runaway slaves from "Maryland, Virginia, and farther South," according to General Oliver Otis Howard's autobiography. In 1865 Howard became Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, a government agency established to aid freed slaves and their families.
"What would make you self-supporting?" asked Howard.
"Land! Give us land!" several replied.
In the spring of 1867, Howard used $52,000 in Freedmen's Bureau funds to purchase all 375 acres of the Barry Farm. He sold 1- and 2-acre lots. Within 2 years, 266 families called Barry Farm home, including the sons of Frederick Douglass.
Old Barry Farm develops
"The land all the time was constantly inquired for by working freedmen," Howard recalled. "It was taken with avidity, and the monthly payments, with very few exceptions, were promptly and regularly made. The prospect to the freedmen of owning a homestead was a great stimulus to exertion." A schoolhouse for 150 pupils was quickly erected. Barry Farm was a self-sufficient, self-contained community.
An 1894 Hopkins map (plate 34) of Barry Farm shows streets names still in currency today. Photo from the DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division.
Today, Barry Farm is almost exclusively associated with the faded 26-acre Barry Farm Dwellings, a 432-unit (nearly a third vacant) property of the DC Housing Authority. The name association hasn't always been that way, says Dews, known as the "Mayor of Barry Farm" for his familial roots on Wade Road SE for nearly a century and his mentorship of neighborhood youth. "It's been a long time since we've been a tribe. But that's what we were and it's important for the younger generation to know this history."
As the city restarts its redevelopment planning process for Barry Farm Dwellings, at an estimated cost of $400 million over a timeline of two decades, the Barry Farm Resident Council, with assistance from Empower DC and local activists, has communicated to the DC Housing Authority that alongside issues of public safety, displacement and employment, a heritage preservation plan is a key concern. 140 years ago, Barry Farm residents and the city were similarly at odds.
According to the Baltimore Sun's Washington correspondent writing in the summer of 1872, "The board of public works propose to open streets in the village and as the residents there have each a deed of one acre of land for his cottage, they are not disposed to surrender any portion of their homesteads for streets or anything else without compensation." When a contractor "appeared in the village to cut up the lots, he was beset, the horses taken from the street plows, the wagons upset, and the laborers driven away. In the afternoon the work was begun under the protection of the police."
Then as now, self-preservation and kinfolk survival is the indigenous creed of Barry Farm, Dews says. "These street names are what's left of the tribe that represented the hard work and sacrifice necessary to build families and businesses. We need to get back to the old way of living."
Talk to anyone returning to DC who's been away for a few years, and you'll get an earful about how much the city has changed. Even to residents, DC has been rendered unrecognizable by the changes, setbacks, blunders, and improvements of the past 50 years.
But there are those who have been around long enough to recall another time entirely. Leon Dews, 62, has been on-hand to witness multiple transformations in his own neighborhood of Barry Farm.
"It was like voodoo," says Dews, recounting memories of his childhood in Barry Farm. "When the sun ducked down behind the trees, there was no kids in the street. Nowadays you see kids out at 11, 12, 2 o'clock in the morning. Kids talk back to the parents, cuss the parents out and all that (expletive)."
In the Barry Farm community there are two historic homes on the 2700 block of Wade Road, SE that are not included in the city's thus-far unrealized redevelopment plans. Dews' home at 2717 Wade Road, built in the early 1920s, is one of the two.
"When they do that redevelopment, it doesn't matter to me. I plan on having my senior citizen's apartment," said Dews. "See, this is not part of the dwellings," he says, referring to the neighboring public housing project of Barry Farm Dwellings.
Yet, Dews has noticed recent changes that have affected his family's two-story home, one of the last remaining houses in the neighborhood with a basement. In recent years, a sidewalk was installed out front of the house. During his childhood and adolescence, Dews said it was a dirt road.
"I've watched them change the houses down there twice since I was coming up," he remembers, citing an influx of refugees from the urban renewal efforts in Southwest Washington. "At first it wasn't those big houses. It was little what we called shotgun houses. Open the front door and see through the back door. Back in the 40s & 50s."
Born in 1949, Dews says, "Most of the neighbors I know died."
Even with turnover in the area's housing, there was always a tight community. "It really didn't change the neighborhood that bad. See Barry Farm was always like a tribe," he said. Then, referring to the nearby Garfield Heights neighborhood, he added "they had the Garfields on the other side of the bridge. They didn't come over here and we didn't go over there. It was no guns, it was sticks and baseball bats back then, and fists."
During our conversation, along with local filmmaker and artist Tendani Mpulubusi, Dews shared some insights into his background. "I'm one of the original Teenorama dancers," Dews says reticently of the popular local teenage dance show of the 1960s. "I got on the cameras a couple times."
Dews and his extended family are well-known in southeast Washington. They were members of the Seafayers Yacht Club, founded in 1945 as the nation's oldest black yacht club. At one time, Dews owned a 55 foot boat.
He credits his life's success to his father. "My father had a third grade education. I thought he was the dumbest mother-(expletive) in the world, back then. But after I grew up I realized he was the smartest man in the world with a third grade education," Dews recalls fondly. "He always lectured us and whooped our ass."
Here's something you don't see every day; a dozen urban planners from the Netherlands walking through Barry Farm, a large public housing complex in DC's Ward 8. Through a collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and the city, Barry Farm and Northwest One (the area around First and K Sts. NW) are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists.
An amalgamation of six companies that combine the skills of architects, planners, and social scientists, members of the "GoDutch Consortium" were in DC to run workshops and meet with residents to develop a model of lasting sustainability. Urban renewal in the Netherlands is "not just about bricks but about the social" and is "three dimensional," according to members of the Consortium.
Diminished municipal budgets on both sides of the Atlantic have created a hard-edged reality where policy makers realize that to repeat the failed social policies of the past fifty years would be not only socially disastrous but financially ruinous.
The "national government's policy of building housing for poor people stacked all together, sociologically and culturally" has not worked, according to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was subdued as he addressed the group.
Originally settled by emancipated former slaves, Barry Farm is a hilly 25 acres that holds 432 public housing units, more than two dozen of which were boarded up on the recent walk through. The neighborhood was selected as one of four New Communities during Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, making it the focus of a proposed public-private development partnership. But Barry Farm activists rejected the Fenty administration's effort to begin the redevelopment process.Sheridan Station on Sheridan Road SE, and Matthews Memorial Terrace on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, within the next 6 months for Barry Farm residents.
Eventually each existing home will be replaced, with current residents of Barry Farm guaranteed the right to return, because "they have nowhere else to go," according to Bishop Matthew Hudson of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The redevelopment of Barry Farm is expected to deliver 1500 mixed-income units, according to Reyna Alorro, Project Manager for Barry Farm within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
"Cities are continually interchangeable, because of the whole concept of cities changing," said Arie Vooburg. His native Rotterdam is similar to DC with its poor separated and "isolated on the southside" due to a waterway. "If you want to have a dynamic city, a city that can adapt to change, you must do it in a physical structure but also in its people."
"How do you say? Ah, yes, merry-go-round," said Vooburg. "Each program on its own is good, but together they don't work." The Consortium seeks to maximize the triple bottom line in redeveloping Barry Farm. To do this, there must be a human capital program, a physical revitalization plan, and a redevelopment and finance strategy that can withstand fluctuations in the credit market and changes in administrations.
These problems have undermined the redevelopment of not just public housing in the United States but "social housing" communities across the world. For new urbanism to evolve and succeed, there must be a degree of certainty in planning that is repellent to political or market pressures.
Behind the United Kingdom and Japan, the Netherlands is the third largest investor in the United States and fourth largest investor in DC with $350 million in total investment, said Renée Jones-Bos, the Dutch Ambassador to the US. The city is not paying the Consortium; it has paid its own way, offering its services and expertise in an attempt to establish stronger connections with the city.
Ward 8, the poorest ward in DC and often the most misunderstood or overlooked, needs a voice. It needs strong community leaders who want to devote their energy to improving the ward's neighborhoods and building consensus among residents.
It needs people ready to put the good of others ahead of their own political advantage. It needs community leaders who are not only passionate and vocal but who are also capable and qualified. Ward 8 is in need politically of what it has long advocated in services and business: more quality and diverse options.
Unfortunately, Ward 8's ANCs generally do not have this. Either languishing due to a lack of community buy-in, or frustration, or both, historically most Ward 8 ANC positions sat vacant or hosted the same cast of characters year after year, often with more emphasis on petty infighting than community progress.
As a result, many ANC meetings feature more drama than accomplishments and direction. Some commissioners spend more energy trying to silence the voices of others they disagree with rather than find new solutions and perspectives to old problems. Unfortunately, in too many Ward 8 ANCs there is no such thing as constructive criticism or accountability.
For every consensus building, forward thinking, qualified commissioner there are often too many others eager to drown them out in order to maintain the status quo. And the cycle of apathy continues. In a ward where the councilmember is often referred to as "Mayor for Life" it should be no surprise that there are some ANC commissioners who feel they should be "Commissioners for Life."
But change is coming. It's not just in the form of new 30-something professionals moving to Ward 8, but in the form of native Ward 8 residents who sat on the sidelines waiting for opportunities and allies to make a positive impact on their communities.
This year, the list of challengers has more than doubled from the last election. Neighbors have become the cheerleaders and recruiters for change in their own neighborhoods, from both sides of the generational gap.
We therefore are endorsing the majority of challengers in Ward 8 ANCs. In many races, we know the challenger's specific ideas and how they would do a better job; in other cases, it's simply valuable to get some new faces and new ideas into moribund ANCs.
ANC 8C perhaps the District's most dysfunctional ANC, which is saying a lot. It has been been investigated by the DC Auditor for a number of problems, including allegedly paying rent for an office they never use, which was never approved by the commission according to ANC statue, and hasn't had a working phone line in over six years. This led to the DC government withholding the annual appropriation it normally gives to all ANCs.
Chair Mary Cuthbert, whose district 8C03 spans St. Elizabeth's East to capture small sections of Barry Farm and Congress Heights, was involved in disbursing the questionable funds and called her opponent, Larry Pretlow, a "dumb n*gger."
We don't think Pretlow is dumb but some constituents say they would prefer a ham sandwich to Commissioner Cuthbert. At the very least, the ham sandwich would be less combative. We urge voters to do better than a ham sandwich and pick Pretlow.
Adjacent commissioner Dion Jordan doesn't attend ANC meetings or meet with residents of his SMD, 8C02, which also covers small parts of Barry Farm and Congress Heights across St. Elizabeth's West. Residents can do much better with LaShaun Smith, a former blogger who wrote under the name Southeast Socialite and who has made clear her desire for a more transparent, functional and inclusive ANC. Some may accuse her of being direct and harsh on crime, but in a SMD that has seen a recent uptick in car jackings and armed robberies, residents need a commissioner who is not only available for meetings but is direct enough to do something about the crime.
One exception to ANC 8C's dysdunction is treasurer (and unofficially secretary, sergeant-at-arms, and community liaison) William Ellis in Barry Farm's 8C01. After a bumpy start, he has proven to be the only commissioner willing to follow DC laws and the DC Auditor's recommendations, and willing to admit publicly and honestly, when and where the commission falls short. We support him for another term over challenger Zaccai Free.
Residents compare southern Congress Heights 8C07 Commissioner Cardell Shelton to Grandpa on The Simpsons for his way of constantly yelling, complaining and fist shaking, but with less grasp of facts. He is the formal secretary of the commission but doesn't take meeting minutes and didn't even respond to the DC Auditor's findings. Meanwhile, Brenda Shields is executive director of a nonprofit and owns her own business. She could bring business and organizational skills that 8C desperately needs.
Anacostia is Ward 8's most diverse and growing neighborhood, and while their ANC is probably the most successful at accomplishing community and ANC tasks, ANC 8A needs to reach out more to new residents. Our hope is that David White would do this as an ANC commissioner in 8A05 in Historic Anacostia. The incumbent, Carolyn Bridges-Ward, is not a change agent; she in fact publicly defended Marion Barry after the most recent scandal, saying nobody was perfect. That's true, but the ward can do a lot better in many ways, including with their 8A05 commissioner.
Darrell Gaston, who represents the Woodland neighborhood in 8B03, is a common sight around the community and aspiring politician (he ran against Marion Barry in the last Ward 8 Council election), but hasn't accomplished much and seems to focus more on raising his profile than solving problems. Gaston has also been quoted several times complaining of the influx of "newcomers" who have moved into the Ward. Gaston seems to focus more on the percieved differences in socioeconomic status among residents than the things that bring them together.
Shipley Terrace's 8B06 commissioner Mitchell Hawkins, by his own admission, doesn't read about or keep current on community issues and lacks good comprehension of simple concepts. In fact, residents in this area say that ANC 8B meetings are very painful, and few commissioners seem to know what is going on.
While we don't have a lot of information about several challengers, we feel this problematic ANC needs some changes, and therefore recommend challengers India Blocker (against Gaston in 8B03), Charles Turner (against Hawkins in 8B06), and Louise Thorne (against 8B07 commissioner Von Pariss in the Shipley Terrace and Douglass neighborhoods).
Commissioner Karlene Armstead in 8E06, split between Congress Heights and Washington Highlands, is another longtime activist who seems more focused on being in charge than being right. Residents have voiced concerns about her inability to listen, few accomplishments, and combative tone with others. She does appear passionate and committed to a safer community but her attitude can turn off residents, especially residents voicing a different opinion or perspective. She seems resistant to any changes that she is not personally in charge of.
We endorse challenger Angela Hooker, who (if campaign signs are any indication) also has the support of at least one current commissioner and a fellow candidate in ANC 8E.
We are hopeful and inspired at such an overwhelming show of community activism across the Ward 8 ANC races. Regardless of who wins or loses the individual SMD races as a whole, the perspective and perception of Ward 8 politics as foregone conclusion is changing
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