James and I stayed in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood while recently visiting Washington, D.C. Normally the place one stays is not all that interesting. After all, one is looking for a safe place to sleep and shower. But the wide swath of homes built in this area from about 1872-1893 and then later in the 1920’s is something most special. So special, in fact, that it deserves some wider attention.
While the ever-growing boundaries of the Capitol Hill neighborhood are disputed, the historic district is clearly defined. As designated by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board, it touches H Street NE to the north, 14th Street SE to the east, M Street SE to the south and South Capitol Street SE to the west. This is the area where we stayed for the duration of time on vacation.
At the time the homes were built a developer perhaps would purchase land for five homes and build them all the same and so close that they touched. Each would have two stories, some three, all however with unique and interesting shapes and ornamentation on the tops and along windows. Among the area’s roughly 8,000 buildings are houses with bay fronts, turrets, stepped Flemish parapets, Moorish balconies, gothic arches, dormers and many other features, sometimes in curious combinations. Most of the homes in the area we stayed had 1,300 square feet.
Over time this area went into decline but in the 1970s it turned the corner and people started buying the homes and refurbishing them so that this is now one of the best areas in the city to live. The homes are often brightly colored and the small lawns are often planted with roses, hosta, and all sorts of flowers. Families abound with small children who live next door to older retired folks. It is a very walking friendly area with restaurants, markets, library and shops galore. One can get to congress in a 20-minute brisk walk.
Everyone—and I mean everyone–was so nice in the city–but especially in this neighborhood. While walking in the neighborhood we commented to a woman in her 70’s about her garden. After about 20 minutes of chatting Ruby said “well since you like older homes come inside and see mine”.
I was surprised an older woman would invite two men she just met to see her home. It was stunning to go inside and see all the touches common to the Federal Style built during parts of the Victorian era. She and her husband had bought the home in 1974 and paid $40,000, but today it is valued at $1 million dollars. Her husband, Mervin, was super nice and gave us some walking tour information of the neighborhood and told about how they each had been a part of the restoration effort of the area decades before.
Only a few blocks away the old D.C. jail had once stood where perhaps its most infamous prisoner was Charles Guiteau who shot President Garfield at a train station in the city. Guiteau would be executed at that jail for his crime.
We ran into a mother out with her two-year-old daughter and talked about her sale sign on the property. Her husband got a job in North Carolina and since it was close to her family the move was a happy event. James inquired gently about the asking price. They had bought for $600,000 and were selling for almost $900,000. It was all very nice but wow—who would want to sit on that payment book?
We loved the Eastern Market in this neighborhood, which is stationed in a long established brick building dating back to 1873. From the start it was a place for local food to be sold. Even now local vendors sell fresh cheeses, fish and a wide array of seafood freshly caught, homemade pasta, and vegetables. All this fresh food is sold 6 days a week. Each Saturday local vendors who make embroidered drying towels, paintings, or a wide range of other products set up a stand near the market.
It is a wonderfully diverse community with as many business-suited men as baby strollers. I loved the entire area!