For more than two centuries, the residential neighborhood stretching east from the U.S. Capitol has been home to people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Its principal employer in its early days was not Congress but the Navy Yard, builder of ships and maker of munitions on the banks of the Anacostia River. Carpenters and craftsmen, slaves and freedmen, merchants and government workers intermingled to create the diverse and vibrant community that stands here today.
Ruth Ann's Perspective
For a good thumbnail sketch of the neighborhood and its heritage, go to Ruth Ann Overbeck's chapter on Capitol Hill in Washington At Home, edited by Kathryn Schneider Smith. Ruth Ann's chapter was expanded and updated by Nancy Metzger for the publication of the 2nd edition in 2000. Or, for a more extensive review of Hill history, read the series of interviews with Ruth Ann that were tape recorded shortly before her untimely death.
Mary Gray's Memoir
For a personal view of life on the Hill in the early twentieth century, we highly recommend 301 East Capitol: Tales from the Heart of the Hill, in which Washington writer Mary Z. Gray describes the Capitol Hill of her childhood and her quirky local forebears. The Overbeck Project formed the Overbeck History Press in order to publish this delightful account. It's available in local bookstores (Riverby, Capitol Hill Books) and on Amazon.com, and a few signed copies remain on hand here at the Project. Contact us if you're interested in a purchase.
Sam and Kathy Smith's Memories of the 1960s
During the first year of the Overbeck Lecture Series, on November 12, 2002, husband-and-wife team Sam Smith and Kathryn Schneider Smith presented their first-hand accounts of life on Capitol Hill in the turbulent 1960s.
Sam and Kathy were prominent activists here in those days, and their lecture, "Cauldron and Community: Joining the Hill in the 1960s," portrayed a decade when Congress grappled with civil rights and the war on poverty while people living in the shadow of the dome struggled to save a neighborhood hit hard by neglect, misguided development, and middle class flight to the suburbs.
Kathy gave an engaging description of her involvement with Friendship House and other community efforts. And Sam, who was founder and editor of the Capitol East Gazette, provided a very colorful view of a community awakening to change, culminating in a gripping account of the 1968 riots.
We also recommend an article by one of our project’s early advisers, George Washington University professor emeritus John M. Vlach, which examines the late-eighteenth century ownership of the land that would become the Capitol Hill neighborhood and challenges the oft-repeated claim that the area was known back then as Jenkins Hill. There’s no direct evidence that local residents ever called the area by that name, although there was a Thomas Jenkins who owned a plot of land some seven blocks east of the future site of the Capitol for less than a year in 1790-91.
Didden and Carry Families
In the Spring of 2000, National Capital Bank president George Didden III delivered a lecture to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., describing the remarkable contributions two of his forebears made to the life and commerce of Washington in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the decades following the Civil War, Albert Carry rose from modest means to become a prominent Washington brewer, real estate investor, banker and philanthropist. He hired architect Clement August Didden to design a number of the National Capital Brewing Company's wholly owned pubs, and in 1905 his daughter Marie married Didden's oldest son George. When Prohibition arrived, the family turned potential disaster into major success by converting the brewery to the manufacture of ice cream. The lecture transcript, with historical photos, is posted here with the Historical Society's permission.