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Making Do

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



Making Do

Location:  Alley Neighborhoods (throughout the city)

(see additional informational links below)

By the late 1800s, many people were concerned about poor living conditions in alleys all over the city. Social reformers turned their attention to advocating housing improvements. One reformer wrote, "the people studied are admirably resourceful in their use of edible wild plants for food" — able to "get a few of these plants from vacant lots and along the river bank."

For a time, there was plenty of local wild food to be found. The Federal Writers Project reported in the 1930s that,

"Marshes of wild rice extend over much of the Anacostia River estuary, and, along the lower Potomac, wild celery, Peltandra, and various waterweeds.... Waterfowl, cranes, rails, pigeons, grouse, bobolinks, and blackbirds were sold in the Washington market as late as 1912; and, finally, with the draining and clearing of the land for real-estate development, many bird haunts ceased to exist."

In some parts of the city, archaeologists have found evidence of wild foods gathered and used into the 1900s.

After decades of advocacy, one 1940s report states:

"With all the notoriety, the alleys remain fundamentally unchanged; some of the homes are comfortable, some are fair and some are, to use an over-used adjective, ‘deplorable.’ The people who live there represent many different grades of culture; some are coarse migrants, some suspicious and bitter, and other gracious and poised."

Today, in the Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods, alley dwellings are highly desirable housing.

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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

Federal Writers Project

FDR and the Federal Writers Project
Oral History: The Federal Writers Project (Library of Congress)
Federal Writers Project Manuscripts in the Library of Congress

Anacostia River

Anacostia Watershed Society
Anacostia River Business Coalition
Anacostia Watershed Network (by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)
Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (DC Office of Planning)

Capitol Hill Neighborhood

Capitol Hill Historic District (from the National Park Service website)
Capitol Hill attractions (from Cultural Tourism DC)
Architect of the Capitol website

Foggy Bottom Neighborhood

Foggy Bottom Historic District (from the National Park Service website)
Foggy Bottom attractions (from the Cultural Tourism DC website)
George Washington University

Alley Dwellings

Blagden Alley-Naylor Court Historic District (from the National Park Service website)
Making a Home: Reconstruction and Integration

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© 2003-2005 University of Maryland