Dear PoP

“I was kinda interested in the local architecture around here, but after reading your blog for awhile my interest has really peaked! I’m interested in researching the history of my place; any clue as how to get started on that?A few things I have noticed…on 13th St, between Park and Kenyon in particular, many of the houses are made with a different style of brick. They are longer and skinnier; nothing spectacular to look at it really. Curious as if you know anything about that or if you just like to find things that stand out.

Also, a little further down on 13th towards Columbia Rd., I’ve noticed that there appears to be a few Greek fraternities or sororities. I assume they are associated with Howard U.”

Hmm, I’m going to have to rely on the readers (again) to help with this question. Would you recommend sending the reader to the MLK Library to do research? Anyone have any other ideas or answers to these questions?

11 Comment

  • the Washingtoniana room at the MLK library is a great, but damaged and hard to use resource. If you have the time, I’d say go for it! Start there.

    I’ve also looked at my real estate records at the DC Government tax office, but those people were the absolute worst DC employees I ever talked to. One farted right in front of me three times and made no reference to it at all, as if nothing could be more normal that farting while talking to someone in public. Her coworker had her head down in her arms on her desk, almost like she was asleep. It was a real wake-up call that the real DC and the “other DC” were farther apart than I thought.

    In the end, two separate dates were listed for the construction of my house, not clarifying the issue.

    In the “stacks” the only other people there were real estate flippers.

  • The DC Historical Society (located in the old Carnegie Library at 801 K Street) has a library with good resources. More info at

  • I had a great experience recently in the Washingtoniana room. The librarian was helpful and they had interesting resources. Didn’t notice any damage, but it was my first time there.

  • I agree with what has already been stated.

    Definitely start with the Washingtoniana room at the MLK Library and the Historical Society of Washington DC. Both have a great collections of newspapers, photos, archives, etc..

    The Gelman Library at GW also has a Washingtoniana collection. They offer an online bibliography to sources on neighborhoods, which specifically mentions the following book as having a good bibliography in its own right:

    Title: Washington at Home: An Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital
    Author: Kathryn Schneider Smith; Columbia Historical Society (Washington, D.C.)
    Publisher: [Northridge, Calif.] : Windsor Publications, 1988.

    Any of the libraries already mentioned will have it.

    And finally, don’t forget the “Chronicling America” project at the Library of Congress that PoP referenced previously. You’ll find there digitized newspapers from DC from 1890 to 1910 or so. The full-page images are great, but unless you’ve got something specific to search — or a lot of time on your hands — I wouldn’t start there. You can certainly search by your street name or neighborhood, but you’ll still get a lot of detritus, and it can be difficult to home in on items of interest if you’re just dipping in and out. Nevertheless, it can be fun to browse.

  • FYI I found this article interesting regarding the Wardman-style homes and the Wardman Park hotel area, it might contain some other clues for sleuthing this sort of stuff:

  • An acquaintance of mine stupidly, STUPIDLY donated a vast collection of 1970s newspaper clippings to the MLK library, but when I looked at them they had been completely sliced up by some nutcase. That’s why I called it “damaged.” Because it’s damaged.

  • saf

    What Perry said – and I note, the updated “Washington at Home” should be coming out soon.

    Also, look at HPO’s website, linked off the OP website at is a step by step how to procedure for researching your house or neighborhood history. I note that it says that building permits are all on microfilm, but there is now a database available at the library.

  • The Petworth Neighborhood Library also has a copy of the building permits database.

  • I have been doing that with my house on the Hill and have been having a grand time. The DC library’s DC collection has some great sources. They have a database that has a good bit of the original permit information as well as a microfiche set with the permits by permit number (the permit will have the developer/architect and owner as well as other information). They also have Washington Realtors microfiche set that can help with previous ownership. Also there are some tax assessment reels.

    The historical society has some good stuff. Especially a grea guide with other sources. There is also a fabulous set of picdtures taken by John P. Wymer from the 1948 1952 where he had taken over 4,000 pictures of intersections in DC. It is quite comprehensive. If your place is from the 160’s or later it likely won’t be ther however. I found a picture of my house taken in 1949.

    Also, there is a Squre & Lot room at the Recorder of Deeds.

    Sanborn maps can be helpful – though only as a picture of what the overall area looked like and what may have previously been on your area.

    I have found that the Washington Post did a Real Estate transactions article which is interesting in general. The Library of Congress has the Proquest Historical Newspapers database (DC public may as well) where you can search it online. It is wonky search so multiple searches and a lot of patience is necessary. If the property is prominent, in a special locations, etc. you can also the Chronicling America database at the Library of Congress. It doesn’t cover many years – just the first decade or so of the DC area – but there are some interesting papers covered in it.

  • Also for general historical neighborhood info you can track down a copy of The Guide to Black Washington (Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin), a fascinating read….

  • Just happened to come across an article on how to trace the history of a home from This Old House magazine. Of course, it’s not focused on DC, but folks still might something of interest there.

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