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Mount Vernon Square Historic District

City of Washington, District of Columbia, DC

The Mount Vernon Square Historic District is significant as a Victorian-era commercial and residential neighborhood located within the historic boundaries of the District of Columbia's Federal City. Developed largely between 1865 and 1910, the community was initially known as the Northern Liberties, having attained its name from the Northern Liberty Market, constructed in the 1840s on L'Enfant's Reservation 8. With the relocation of the market, and the creation of a landscaped park in the reservation, the neighborhood was unofficially titled "Mount Vernon." The developing neighborhood's rapid growth was in response to the city's increased demand for housing following the Civil War, the extensive programs to modernize the city in the 1870s, and the expansion of the national capital's economy and population. Seventh Street, chartered as a turnpike in 1810 by an act of Congress, became the spine of the neighborhood, as well as a primary transportation artery into the center of the city. Commercial development migrated northward along 7th Street, just across Massachusetts Avenue to the north, when the turnpike was macadamized in the early 1870s. The laying of streetcar rails along the north/south corridors of 4th, 7th, 9th, and 11 th Streets, and east on New York Avenue further augmented development in the Mount Vernon community. The new streetcar technology opened up the Federal City for residential development, making it more convenient than ever to commute downtown to work and shop. Consequently, the Mount Vernon area, like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, grew as a cohesive residential neighborhood with nearly all of the rowhouses constructed by speculative builders and real estate developers. Most of the area's mid- to late 19th century brick architecture remains intact along the residential streets that radiate from the transportation corridors and commercial strips from which the Mount Vernon neighborhood evolved.

The Mount Vernon Square Historic District is also significant for its illustration of Washington's urban history, specifically the residential patterns of the working and middle classes. As Washington became increasingly segregated, the Mount Vernon neighborhood was striated with white residents living primarily in dwellings facing onto the public streets, while working class African Americans lived within the alleyways. The numerous alleys, labyrinths lined with dwellings, stables, and commercial structures, were isolated from the everyday life found on the surrounding public streets. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, legislation and the humanitarian efforts of social organizations and individuals improved the welfare of the alley inhabitants, eventually eradicating alley dwellings altogether. This prompted northward migration to the nearby U Street neighborhood, which was emerging as the center of Washington's African American community. Consequently, the Mount Vernon neighborhood evolved into a predominately white and middle class area by the second quarter of the 20th century.

Today, the Mount Vernon neighborhood is defined by the many original mid- to late 19th century buildings, including residential and commercial structures fronting on both public streets and alleyways. This building stock includes limited examples of the wood-frame houses that pre date the Civil War and that represent the long history of residential occupation in the neighborhood. The middle-class dwellings oriented to the public streets illustrate a variety of building types and the changing fashions in architectural design with vernacular interpretations of the late 19th and early 20th century revival styles. The resources are typically brick rowhouses flanked by one- and two-story commercial buildings, churches, and multi-story apartment buildings. Within the interiors of the squares, the extant alleys feature a mix of utilitarian residential, commercial, and auxiliary buildings such as stables and garages.

† Laura V. Trieschmann, Architectural Historian, EHT Traceries, Chevy Chase, nomination document, Mount Vernon Square Historic District, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
4th Street NW • 5th Street NW • 6th Street NW • 7th Street NW • Kirby Street NW • L Street NW • M Street NW • Morgan Street NW • N Street NW • New Jersey Avenue NW • New York Avenue NW • Ridge Street NW