Tag Archives: Anacostia

The Congressional Cemetery Offers a Reflective Look at DC’s More Ordinary History

Washington, DC had an interesting beginning, founded not by pilgrims or pioneers, but by an act of Congress in 1790 to establish a “federal city” that would be the seat of government.  Over time, the new city found its character, but almost entirely lost to history are the stories of the people who helped build it into a real, thriving place where everyday life occurred.  Luckily, the Congressional Cemetery preserves theses narratives, and many more.

The cemetery, tucked between the Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory metro stations along the Anacostia River, has been called “America’s first de facto national cemetery.”  Founded in 1807 as the Washington Parish Burial Ground, the need for a close graveyard was a sign that the young capital had grown into its own.

Today, the Congressional Cemetery, which is still open for new burials, is the final resting place for approximately 55,000 individuals, who lie in 30,000 burial sites and under 14,000 headstones.  Famous figures interred at the site include J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa.  Others include Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument; and Belva Lockwood, who in 1884 was either the first or second woman to run for president (apparently there is debate on this topic, see here).

A number of more “ordinary” interesting characters buried at the Congressional Cemetery who have added their unique flair to DC include Mary Ann Hall, a high-end brothel owner; Marie Claire Fuller, a once famous silent film actress who died forgotten in a mental institution; and Matthew Brady, the father of photojournalism who covered the Civil War.

All of this and much more history can be learned during free Saturday tours at 11am, March through October.  Additionally, Civil War tours are held once a month on the afternoon.

In addition to the vast history that the Congressional Cemetery provides, the 35 acres of grounds are a serene haven in the midst of the bustling city.  Many nearby residents walk their dogs in the park, and birds and squirrels are easily observed in the large oak trees.

Whether you are a history buff or just curious to get a glimpse of the past, the Congressional Cemetery will offer you new insight into both our city and our nation.

To visit:  1801 E Street SE, (202) 543-0539, a few blocks from the Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue metro stations, and close to the 96 and other bus lines.  Open every day from dawn until dusk.

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A Bit of Nature Within the City: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Washington, DC is a surprisingly good spot for green spaces.  From Rock Creek Park to the Capital Crescent Trail, our city has many natural havens.  But one of the best and least known of these spots is hidden in Anacostia—Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

Kenilworth, located on the banks of the Anacostia River, is a 14-acre set of gardens adjacent to 77 acres of marshland.  The park is best known for its unique water lilies, lotuses, and other flowering plants on the garden ponds.

It also has a restored tidal marsh, one of the city’s last tidal wetlands.  A boardwalk out into the marsh provides a glimpse into the unique habitat—on my visit, I saw an osprey with a large fish in its talons alight on a branch across the marsh.

Kenilworth in managed by the National Park Service and therefore has excellent visitor outreach such as a small visitor’s center and binoculars available for loan.  It also provides garden tours and opens early every morning at 7am for birders.  And you’ll be sure to see some interesting avians—I caught a glimpse of a brilliant orchard oriole on my walk.

The history of the gardens dates back to 1882, when Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw decided to use his farmland to create a series of water ponds and gardens.  After his death in 1921, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to dredge the gardens to deal with the silt that had filled the Anacostia River, but Shaw’s daughter formed a citizen’s activist group that saved the site. She also convinced Congress to buy the gardens for $15,000, which the National Park Service acquired in 1938.  Since then, it has been essentially unchanged.

Kenilworth has different attractions for the different seasons.  As its website says:  “Spring is the best season for wildflowers in the marsh that borders the athletic fields and gardens.  Summer is the season for the Aquatic Gardens.  Winter, when leaves are off the trees, is the best time for birding at any of the sites. “

One of the best things about Kenilworth is that it is metro accessible.  From the Deanwood metro station, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the park entrance.  It’s a special place in our city that is definitely worth losing yourself in for a few hours.  Bring your horticulture knowledge and a birding guide and you’ll forget that the city and highway 295 are less than a mile away.

To visit:  1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019.  Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  Metro accessible via the Deanwood station.  The park is also accessible from the back on the river with a canoe or kayak.  Free to visit.

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Across the River at Uniontown Bar and Grill

There’s no doubt that Anacostia is slowly changing.  Currently an almost entirely residential neighborhood, it has recently begun to at least show signs of success in drawing businesses and economic development to Ward 8, which the Washington Post called a “a long-neglected area of the city” in February.  Perhaps the most important bellwether of this change is the opening of one of Anacostia’s first (if not the only, depending on what your consider “Anacostia”) sit-down restaurants and bars, Uniontown Bar and Grill.

Uniontown takes its name from Anacostia’s original name.  The Uniontown neighborhood was incorporated in 1854 and was one of DC’s first suburbs.  The history of the area is very interesting, and full of demographic changes, including covenants against selling to members of certain races and ethnicities—see this National Park Service primer for more details.  Uniontown the bar homage to its past, with framed black and white photos on the wall from Anacostia’s olden days.

The restaurant captures the perfect combination of both trendy and neighborhood-y feelings.  It is filled with young professionals who seek happy hours after work, and almost all of the patrons when I visited were local.  This is a far different experience than that of most watering holes in DC, particularly in places like Adams Morgan and Farragut, whose bars beckon those from miles around to drive in and spend money.  Uniontown is better for it.

The food is southern inspired—the crab dip and sweet potato fries are certainly worth sampling.  The bar options lean heavily towards cocktails (a.k.a. “hip sips”), with just a few beer options.  Also impressive is a “create your own salad” option—bar food taken up a notch!

The owner of the restaurant, Natasha Dasher, is often on hand to chat with patrons, make personal inquiries, and welcome anyone and everyone to her establishment.  I was lucky enough to visit Uniontown with an Anacostia resident, and Natasha seemed to know him and everyone else in the bar, preserving the feeling that this place is “a hub in the community,” as she was quoted in an interview describing her hopes for the place.

As the Washington Post stated in its review of Uniontown, the spot is a symbol of Anacostia’s “potential to have the same services and amenities found in more affluent areas of the city.”  Head to Uniontown soon not only for its good vibes, but for a glimpse at history being made in a neighborhood that is right in the middle of some very important changes.

To visit:  2200 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, 202-678-8824, Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm and Friday/Saturday 11am-2am.  It is a 10-minute walk from the Anacostia metro stop, or the 90 bus from NW/Capitol Hill.

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