D - Crowded Housing
Location: Essex Court at 6th and "Eye"
Streets, NW (see MAP)
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown Station (Red-Green-Yellow lines)
informational links below)
Imagine being one of the tens of thousands of people who
poured into the city during and after the Civil War, no longer enslaved and
looking for a new life. You may have found a place to live in the hastily
built and crowded alley dwellings. There you would find ways of "making do,"
a practiced way of life for African Americans. According to the 1880 census,
African-American laundresses and laborers were the heads of household here
in Essex Court. Small amounts of archaeological testing found some
children’s toys, cosmetic jars and a man’s porcelain shirt stud, probably
lost in the laundry.
Perhaps you’d have relatives in southern Maryland in
which case you’d be the "city cousin" and guide your rural relatives when
they came to visit or look for work. Like others, both black and white,
you’d probably move frequently between the city and countryside. If you were
lucky, you’d work and save enough to move back to a place like Charles
County and eventually buy farmland.
One small testimony to connections between urban and
rural whites was found in St. Mary’s County. Archaeologists recovered a soup
bowl with an inscription that read "Atlantic Lunch." This artifact came from
the Atlantic Hotel on the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania, which was a
meeting place for county people for the first half of the 20th century.
FUN FACT: In the early
Chinatown was located at what is now
Federal Triangle, which
previously had been a "red light district" (see
Site J). When the Federal
government began constructing buildings there in the 1930s, Chinatown was
relocated northwest to the area where Essex Court is located. Look for
Chinatown Gateway Arch, the world's largest single-span arch, nearby at
7th and H Streets.
Archaeology in Downtown
a walking and metro guide to the past...
was produced cooperatively by the National
Park Service, National Center for Cultural Resources, Archeology and
Ethnography Program; the District of Columbia Office of Planning, Historic
Preservation Office; the Center for Heritage Resource Studies, University of
Maryland, College Park; and the Society for American Archaeology.