Exploring an 1883 Map of Washington, DC

A few months ago, the novelist Howard Weinstein posted to Facebook a link to Adolph Sachse’s “Bird’s Eye View” map of Baltimore in 1869, and I poured over it, finding the location where my great-great-grandmother and her father lived at the time and the church where my great-grandparents might have married in 1900, as it no longer stands. (At the very least, it’s the church where the minister was from.)

There’s a similar map for Washington in 1883, and delving into it I found the location where my great-grandfather Allyn Gardner was born in 1879, where the Gardners lived at the time of the map, and where the Gardners lived briefly in Georgetown a few years later.

The national capital, Washington, D.C. Sketched from nature by Adolph Sachse, 1883-1884.

In 1879, when Allyn Gardner was born, the Gardners lived in the Navy Yards area, along the north side of M Street. Interestingly, Allyn’s half-brother Thomas Hardy would live next door to where Allyn was born much later in Thomas’s life. Thomas is buried in Congressional Cemetery.

Detail of the Navy Yards area in Adolph Sachse's 1883 map of Washington.
Detail of the Navy Yards area in Adolph Sachse’s map of Washington, 1883,

Annotated version of this map here, with locations described below marked.

By 1881, the Gardners relocated to the eastern side of 11th Street, just a little south of M Street. 11th Street runs south to the bridge across the Anacostia. Basically, they just moved a block.

Roughly center in this detail of the map is the famous Marine Barracks. I remember a field trip — elementary school? junior high school? — where the bus took us past the Marine Barracks, for reasons I no longer know, and a few year ago I walked past the Marine Barracks on the fourth of July.

The barracks are bounded on the north by G Street, and two blocks west of the barracks, on the north side of G Street, is Christ Episcopal, which is the church John Philip Sousa attended. That’s also the church that Congressional Cemetery, which is just off this detail to the east, is affiliated with, and I suspect that that Gardners may have attended there at one time. I have reason to believe my great-great-grandmother Susan, at least at some points in her life, was an Episcopalian.

I’ve walked this area. There’s nothing to see of genealogical interest; that stretch of M Street is a park and a bus stop, that stretch of 11th Street is a bunch of nothingness in the shadow of the Southeast Freeway.

In the upper right corner, obliterated by the seam in the map, is where Allyn’s half-sister Margaret (Gardner) Gordon lived on South Carolina Avenue. (I hadn’t intended to crop the map that way; it was a lucky accident.) Margaret was much older than my great-grandfather, by about twenty-five years, and she had children older than him. (My great-grandfather was a very late in life child; his father was in his mid-fifties, his mother right around 40.) Margaret’s husband William, a carpenter, died in 1888, and despite having five children and living another thirty years, she never remarried and appears to have given birth to a child in 1890. Margaret is buried in Congressional Cemetery with a nameless Gordon child. I don’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. William Gordon is also buried in Congressional Cemetery, but not anywhere near Margaret; he actually seems to be buried in some unmarked pauper’s grave, as the names with him and around him have neither rhyme nor reason.

Puzzling out Georgetown took more work; the Sachse map uses the historical Georgetown names, Boyd’s City Directory for Washington uses the L’Enfant names (which is what are used now), since they were used interchangeably until an act of Congress in 1895, and I had to match them up, (Damn Congress, always meddling in the District’s affairs.) Fortunately, Wikipedia had a helpful article. M Street was Bridge Street, 33rd was Market, and 34th was Frederick. With those located, I was able to locate the Gardners’ home on M Street easily.

Detail of Georgetown in Adolph Sachse’s map of Washington, 1883.

Annotated version of this map here.

Sometime around 1886 the Gardners moved from M Street SE to (what is now) M Street NW. It was Bridge Street, then, and a block to the south was the C&O Canal.

Why did they move to Georgetown? I have no idea. I do know that my great-great-grandfather’s first mother-in-law, Anne Atwell, died in June of 1886. She was in her late 80s — she was born around 1800 — and I’ve made the assumption, perhaps safely, that she wasn’t particularly mobile and, once she was gone, they could move from the banks of the Anacostia to the banks of the Potomac. Was it William’s work that took the Gardners from the Navy Yards to Georgetown? And why did they move to Baltimore circa 1887? I don’t know, and the people who would know are long, long dead.

Georgetown University was just Georgetown College then, and there were only a few buildings. The noticeable one is Healy Hall, I’ve been working off an on at colorizing a photograph of a baseball game in front of Healy Hall, circa 1900, and the stonework is really quite exquisite, even in that old photograph.

I have also walked that area — the Gardners lived across the street from what is now the Ukrainian Embassy — then ended up in the hospital and intensive care a few days later. No, though I have blamed my Washington outing at the end of September for my hospitalization, there’s no connection. Just coincidence.

3333 M Street, NW, Washington

As for what’s there now, it’s an empty retail building. An interesting looking one, and one that I’m sure won’t be on the market long as that’s a high traffic area, but still. It’s retail. Once, my ancestors walked these streets and lived in buildings that stood here. Now, it’s just a building. Perhaps, if it won the lottery, I would look into renting the building as the headquarters of the non-profit I would found.

You go a block or two north, though, and the rowhouses look like they could be old enough that my great-grandfather could have seen then. Perhaps he had childhood friends who lived in them. Perhaps we played on those streets.

The Sachse 1883 map of Washington is fascinating, and I’ll delve into it more in the future. One notable find for me — the map predates Swampoodle Grounds, so there’s just an empty field a couple of blocks north of the Capitol where the baseball field stood two years later.

Old maps are fun.

Published by Allyn Gibson

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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