Anacostia, a name resultant of the area’s early history as Nacochtank, a Native American settlement, has a long and rich story. The foundation of what is now the Anacostia’s historic district was incorporated in 1854 as Uniontown and was one of the first suburbs in DC. At the time of the initial subdivision, anyone of African or Irish derivation was barred from inhabiting the area via restrictive covenants. Because of this, In 1877, abolitionist Fredrick Douglass (the “sage of Anacostia”) bought Cedar Hill, an estate owned by the developer of Uniontown that sat just outside Anacostia. The site is still maintained today.
Once covered in marshland, the area began to develop in the 1850s, saw a boom in military-fueled construction during the Civil War, grew again during the Great Migration of southern African Americans to the north, and once more during World War I with the addition of two military bases.
Planned to be available to Washington’s working class, many of whom were employed nearby at the Navy Yard on the Anacostia River, the neighborhood was isolated from the city and therefore affordable. Relatively homogenous in its simple, classic homes, Anacostia is rich in personality and variety with its individually chosen details such as porches, roof lines, iron fencing and gable treatments. The frame houses are mostly Italianate and Cottage style, with Queen Anne examples and brick rowhouses peppered throughout.
Shopping, dining and entertainment facilities throughout larger Anacostia are somewhat limited, as development slowed due to a decrease in income in the area. Anacostia, however, since about 2005 has seen a rejuvenation in community interest with the focus on helping children and adults reach their full potential. Free summer evening jazz concerts are also given weekly in Fort Dupont Park — a park which had originally been a Civil War fortress. A large supermarket now services the area and an annual Martin Luther King Birthday Parade in April heightens the sense of community. After decades of neglect, Anacostia’s citizens have rallied to reinvigorate their neighborhood.