Map of the Week Vol. 5 – Topographic Survey between 7th and 14th Streets 1882

Click map to enlarge. Source: Office of Coast Survey’s Historical Map & Chart Collection

Map of the Week is written by David A., a systems librarian and map geek living in Mt. Pleasant.

This week’s map comes from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. DC’s east-west roads north of the lettered streets follow an alphabetic pattern from south to north. Roads further south have two syllables (Euclid, Fairmont, Girard, etc.). Once the two-syllable roads end, we get 3-syllable alphabetical names (Allison, Buchanan, Crittenden, etc.). This wasn’t always the case, and does not always hold.

One aberration from the alphabetic pattern is Columbia Road, which runs through Columbia Heights. In 1882, instead of Fairmont and Girard streets, we had Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia streets. Was Columbia Street (now Columbia Road) named after the Ivy League institution like its neighbors? Or was it named for Columbian College that occupied nearby Meridian Hill? Either way, Columbia Road remains today, splitting the alphabetically correct Harvard and Irving streets.

You may be surprised to find New Jersey Avenue cutting its way through Columbia Heights. According to this map, New Jersey Avenue extended up to Columbia Road between 13th and 14th. Need to get your bearings? Present-day Florida Avenue’s distinctive curve shows up at the bottom of the map in the form of Boundary Street.

16 Comment

  • Enjoy this weekly post.

    Note, are you thinking that this map showed actual lay-out, or proposed lay-outs. From my understanding, maps like these are just proposed. New Jersey Ave never extended as the map shows.

    • That’s a good question! The map does say “Black lines represent existing streets” but do we believe it? I don’t know. There are dotted lines that seem to indicate proposed road connections over what looks like a creek.

  • New Jersey Avenue did not actually extend this far north. That’s what is known as a “paper street.” The proposed right-of-way existed on paper, but was never built in reality.

  • Answer: the street, city, and school were all named after the same genocidal Italian who couldn’t read a map and lost most of his boats.

    • The city was named after George Washington if I am not mistaken. Not said Italian…

      • This is north of Boundary St — not in Washington. Should have said “District,” though.

      • you actually are mistaken, the name of our city is the District of Columbia, not washington.

        • Our city is Washington, which is located in the District of Columbia. Their borders are now the same though long ago Washington was a smaller part of the District, which included other towns such as Georgetown.

          • Georgetown was actually part of Maryland until the 1870s, if I’m remembering correctly.

            I think in these early maps, etc. people sometimes used “District of Columbia” interchangeably with “Washington County” — like with Lincoln’s Cottage being described as being in Washington County, rather than inside the city itself.

          • it’s all fine and good what used to be and all that, but the proper name for the capital of the USA is The District of Columbia.
            there really should be a question about that people. know a district, yo.

          • According to all the books I have read on the creation of the city. The city is Washington, with in the boundaries of the District of Columbia which includes cities like Georgetown and Alexandria. Yes, these streets are outside of the original boundary, and yes, Columbia Rd was in line with the ivy leagues school. Read the book about how the street names and squares came about. Amazon is a good place to buy all these books. Washington County and the side on Virigina (now known as Arlington County and Alexandria City) comprised the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. At no point was this city name DC… if you look at an address label of someone living in DC, this should be a clear indicator.

  • Dude, you are killing it on these maps. My favorite so far has been the Ft. Stevens one, mostly because it features Petworth so prominently. (On that score: I couldn’t get the NOAA archives map search to work on my browser. Sigh.)

  • andy

    Great source!

    I checked there and found the area near my home before it was developed. Really interesting. Piney Branch went quite a ways and had some broad, swampy areas, looked like right about at where 13th & Arkansas meet now.

  • Love this map! And I love how so much back in the day happened because of lawsuits. I once found an awesome pre-Crestwood map at NARA that never made it out of the case file and into a map archive.

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