4 education
4 research
4 outreach
4 dialogue

D-Crowded Housing

Washington Underground: Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...

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DC Archaeology Tour Contents

Locator Map
Archaeology in DC
Urban Archaeology
A-Rare Achievement
B-Self Medication
D-Crowded Housing
E-Pardon Our Dust
F-Safe Water
H-Path of History
I-2nd Hand Economy
J-Oldest Profession
Making Do
Other Sites
For More Information

D - Crowded Housing

Location:  Essex  Court at 6th and "Eye" Streets, NW (see MAP)
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown Station (Red-Green-Yellow lines)

(see additional 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 20th century, 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 the Chinatown Gateway Arch, the world's largest single-span arch, nearby at 7th and H Streets.

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Washington Underground:
Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
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.

Additional Links

Alley Dwellings

Blagden Alley (National Park Service Site)
Making a Home: Reconstruction and Integration

Chinatown and Federal Triangle

View of Chinatown
Chinatown Gateway Arch
Federal Triangle (National Park Service)

 Southern Maryland

Historic St. Mary's City
Charles County

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