Recently in History Category

Historic Figures

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Last night the Help was fixated on the television watching a Mike Douglas interview of Rev. Martin Luther King on Bounce (I think, forgot what channel we were watching), which was part of some documentary on Dr.King. The thing was this wasn't a typical small snippet of an interview, but as far as I could tell it was the whole Mike Douglas interview and if it weren't for the other stuff that came later, we thought it was a rebroadcast of The Mike Douglas Show, which was on the air from 1961-1980.

What made this interview special was that it wasn't your usual highlight reel of Dr. King that gets put out. Rather it was Dr. King on the War in Vietnam, the fact that he was not on the same page with other civil rights figures (ex. Stokley Carmichael), and why he wasn't a Communist. For that last one he pointed out that he was a Baptist minister above all, and the two belief systems/philosophies aren't compatable. We are quite familiar with Dr. King and the issue of race, but how familiar are we with Dr. King and his anti-war stance, Dr. King and labor/ workers rights, or Dr. King and the body of Christ in the world? Anyway it was a great interview.

This got me thinking about other 'historical figures' who are now known more by their name and less by what made them an historical figure in the first place. Who is Nannie Helen Burroughs, besides some road that traffic gets backed up upon? Anna J. Cooper was an educator and tiny traffic circle in LeDroit, but anything else about her, or do we stop at the shorthand of 'educator' and move on? Luckily enough people still listen (and dance) to the recordings of Duke Ellington, so he's not just a 'musician' or a set of expensive condos.

Totally Unrelated to Shaw- Jim Henson's Pipes

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Traveling with the Help could be interesting. When we were in London (back when we were 'just friends') he wandered off to some BBC radio program to get interviewed and talk about radio. Since I was more interested in finding a good curry spot, I chose not to tag along. This trip he wanted to connect with some people he knew at NBC so we marched down to 30 Rock and after sucking the battery power from my phone, managed to get hold of a NBC buddy, who came down to vouch for us.
The NBC buddy took us on a tour. Somewhere around the corner where Jimmy Falon's show is shot is this:
Henson Pipes
This is what happens when Jim Henson, Frank Oz & the Muppet gang get bored.
The plaque explains it:
With Love from the Muppets
Jim Henson went to the Univ of Maryland and got his start in the DC TV market. There, that's my DC connection.
Anyway, I asked if this lovely bit of preserved art (it's behind glass) was on the tour group tour that they give at NBC. Sometimes it is.

The ones who came before the ones who came before

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A thought ocurred to me while reading something from a neighborhood email list. The topic was neighborhood change or gentrification. There was a polite request that newcomers respect the ones who came before and acknowledge the residents who came before. There are also calls that the next generation of residents preserve and celebrate a particular slice of neighborhood history. So I wondered, did the residents who we are to remember do the same for the ones they replaced?

History, houses and homes

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Bates Street 1968-1972
Bates Street in the 1960s

The Washington Post with MRIS (real estate database) is sponsoring a historic house contest which you can read about here, or dig up your Saturday newspaper and find it in the Real Estate section. The basics are any home 50 years or older and judging is based on aesthetics, historical accuracy and contemporary creativity. There is a bit more in the dead tree version and there was also an article about buying a "historic" house, historic as in registered with the National Register of Historic Places or the DC Inventory of Historic sites.
But I believe history is everywhere and not just where it has been designated by some federal or municipal body.
Anyway, I also noticed that the Post is calling it a "Historic Home Contest," using home instead of house, though it isn't clear if the elements being judged are those parts that separate the definition of house and home. I mentioned this to the Help, and after we joked that in less than 50 years Suzane Reatig's stuff will be eligible, we got to talking about homes, houses and history.
He remembered a time when he was visiting a friend who had a 1940s retro kitchen. The movable stuff, the things that don't tend to convey with the sale of a home over time, the fridge, the stove the little kitchen table where he sat and the decor gave it the feel of a past age. But what really made it feel like he was in a time warp was when a broadcast (maybe WAMU's Ed Walker's program) came on from the same period. It would not have surprised me if the hostess was serving a snack or meal keeping with that era. History is so much more than the architectural elements.
For me, the idea of home over house is how it is experienced. The rules regarding houses in historic districts focus on the exterior. A home is experienced from the interior. Unless one does a lot of yard work or spends a lot of time on the porch or patio, we tend to experience where we live on the inside. It is where we tend to sleep, watch tv, make coffee/tea, eat, and shower. And those interiors change with each new set of occupants. From there those occupants add to the history of a place. The cop who lived here and died of fever at home, the 11 residents who somehow crushed themselves in 1000 sq ft and the alcoholic mother and her mentally disabled son, all added to the history of the place I call home.
Cities are wonderfully dynamic places, with all sorts of stuff going on, stuff that will be history as time passes. Maybe your cousin's puny punk/ska/jazz fusion band constantly crashing on your floor may be part of history when that band (or just 1 member) makes it big. Or you can just be you, going about your life as many Washingtonians have done before, decades and a century or two ago, being part of the history of our town.

An Old NC Main St.

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Note: This is my last year doing the Inshaw blog, which I'll wrap up in 2013. I do plan to keep blogging, as it is a nice writing exercise. I haven't entirely decided on how the next blog will work out, but below is the kind of stuff I plan on writing.

Belk-Tyler's The photograph is about two stories. For simplicity sake, I'll focus on one, my mother's story first.

My mother's segregated North Carolina school was so small (it was K-12) that everyone who can, shows up to the annual reunion. This year my mother came up to the reunion, so I and the Help came down to meet her. She was staying at her brother's, my uncle's house and so we had time to talk several times that weekend.

The Help and I had previously wandered around the town's pretty much dead as a door knob downtown and took pictures. I shared this one with my mother and asked her if the above was the entrance to the Belk-Tyler department store that she had integrated as the first colored/Black (no one was calling her an African-American back then) saleswomen for that store. She retold the story of how a white child had spat at her, but then she added that she also received unpleasant treatment from other Black people. She didn't go into detail, mainly because I then told my own story of poor treatment from customers when I was working at a grocery store.

The second story is that of the dead as a door knob downtown. Main Street is three or four blocks of commerical space bisected by the railroad tracts that lead to the train station. There were visible signs that the city was in the process of trying to revive the city center by redoing the sidewalks and promoting the downtown as a historic destination. I wish them the best, but I don't see where the life is going to come from. The downtown had been in its death throes for decades. Like many cities, the mall, hurt the downtown. The Main Street we walked town had a few thrift and low end clothing stores. There used to be a store front church there, but according to the sign, they moved to better digs. There was also the obligitary "antique" store. Mostly it was a bunch of empty storefronts, like the old Belk-Tyler's, with 'for sale' signs. Because NC was having a tax holiday, there were some people in the few open stores, but not a crowd. The light traffic and everything else doesn't seem to bode well for the future of Main St.

Complicated history

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A lot of things I meant to blog in some detail about have fallen through the cracks because I'm working on the Truxton Project. I really wanted to get the data for another square out this weekend, but I hit a snag. Hopefully by tonight I can get the data for Square 618 up. And if anyone cares what order I'm going in, I'm starting with the southern/Hanover area. Or if anyone is just dying to know about their block and can't wait, I'll take requests. But really, all will be up by about July 14th, if not sooner.

Also this weekend I've been hearing from someone's whose ancestor lived in the TC back in the 19th century. I did some lunchtime research to help and the decendant told me more about a brewery his ancestor John C. Kozel operated at 43 N St. NW on Square 617. The census project only does residences, however I did spot a Kozel family on another square on the unit block of P St NW in 1880. Nice commute. John C.'s son George operated a beer garden over on 14th St NW. Some time between John C Kozel's death in 1881 and 1906 when a coal dealer expanded the building, it was listed as a brewery in 1882 with a new operator, then in a later year became a bottlery.

Lastly, the Help, who is also a history person, had his interest peaked by the whole Truxtun owning a slave thing. So he's reading a book about slaveowning Quakers. One of his heroes, Daniel Boone, raised Quaker, owned a slave. Also Benjamin Franklin owned slaves, but later became an abolitionist.

CORRECTION- C Kozel, the decendant, sent me an obit. lisiting 43 N Street NW as John C. Kozel's residence. John's son George Kozel lived over on P Street. This begs a question of if anyone else was missed in the 1880 census.

Ten days of Truxton in one

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Chatting with Mr. Scott Roberts of Blooingdale, we were both reminded of a small series I ran called 10 days of Truxton, giving a very brief and quick history of Commodore Thomas Truxtun, who got a traffic circle, and the circle is where the neighborhood name comes from. Sort like Shaw, named for a school, named for a Civil War hero. So here is a repost of the recap.

Day 10. I've been trying to figure out at what point Tom Truxtun went from Captain Truxtun to Commodore Truxtun. Apparently some time between 1800-1801, when he took command of the President and before he quit the US Navy all together because of some ranking spat, that wasn't entirely Truxtun's fault. In 1801 the fake war with France ended and there wasn't much of a need for a wartime naval force. And it appears through some letters sent in 1802 about a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy, because he caught a cold failed to dine with the Secretary, who apparently wasn't that keen on him in the 1st place, who then failed to provide Truxtun with the requested personnel needed. It seems that Truxtun decided if he was going to get no respect he may as well quit. So he did and from 1803-1822 lived life as a gentleman living off of prize money won in earlier years. He had a farm, a couple for a while, but settled at Wood Lawn, a farm not far from Philadelphia. He served as a High Sheriff from 1816-1819. In 1822 he died, his wife a year later.

Ten Days of Truxtun:
Day 1- The Name-The Hood
Day 2- Slavery
Day 3- Commodore's background
Day 4- What I did During the American Revolution
Day 5- Continuing the Revolutionary War
Day 6- Going for broke
Day 7- In the Navy
Day 8- Not the British Navy
Day 9- Fake French War

Resources- Commodore Thomas Truxtun 1755-1822 by Eugene S. Ferguson. The free Library of Philadelphia, 1947.
Truxtun of the Constellation: The Life of Commodor Thomas Truxtun, US Navy, 1755-1822, by Eugene S. Ferguson. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

The TC in the 40s


Well the download is faster now so it is easier to get images from the National Archives site and I was able to grab the map. 1940 Census Map1

This map and the rest of the census work I've been collecting for like, forever, is the kind of stuff I am hoping to throw on my new website (that isn't up yet, gotta give my host 24-48 hrs), Yes,, Scott & Matt were kind enough to give the domain name to me and I am very grateful. It won't be as fancy as Scott & Matt's site (as I lack the know how of Matt), but I hope that it will be informative regarding the history of the neighborhood.

Anyway, back to the 1940 census. It's free. And it's still fuzzy. Below is part of the unit block of O Street in ED 1-36.


I haven't heard back from my cousin regarding indexing the 1940 Census for the TC, but I am sure she'll do a portion of it. Also I'd like to ask if any of you would like to volunteer some data entry work in getting this historic data out into the public? In time Ancestry will index the names, but maybe not the addresses and the other data that I think is most interesting, like rent and household income. If you are interested in indexing just a few pages, maybe of your block or just your street, or a whole enumeration district, please contact me, via the comments.


DC had experienced various housing and urban renewal programs and I was wondering if it is possible to actually judge a project, particularly the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area project, which began roughly, in the 60s after the larger Northwest Urban Renewal Area project was changed and broken into parts. And that points out a problem, a project may start out as one thing, get re-evaluated and changed. There are also other factors relating to changes in personnel and governance, I'm thinking of the impact of the Home Rule Act on federally funded and headed urban renewal projects.

The goal was slum clearance. Was the slum cleared? One, you could argue if the area was a slum in the first place. I got in a binder that contains some very pale photocopies of a survey of the type of housing found in Shaw, and various other surveys documenting the number of "substandard" housing units found on each square. Like arguing 'slum', 'substandard' can be disagreed on as well. Second, who do you credit? Yes, the government poured all sorts of money into the area, but the rioters' fires and vandalism removed plenty of buildings, which may have taken tons of paperwork to approve the demolition. The rioting also changed the atmosphere, the tone and the direction of the project. Third, when do you know a project is done? The National Capital Planning Commission still references the old Shaw maps and outline. Is it done now? I don't know. I'm guessing maybe, yes.

Neighborhood genealogy

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Right now I've fallen in love with an idea. I just wonder how long I will be in love with this idea, until I find that it just doesn't work for one reason or another. The idea is a neighborhood genealogy. Which in my mind right now is similar to the neighborhood history of the TC that I've been doing, except it is more people focused and the people and things don't have to prove any greatness or be particularly unique. It can be accepted for what it is and what it was without any pressure to conform to the great narratives.

Poking around I found a chapter in a book by essayist David K. Leff on "Neighborhood Genealogy", which as I read it is about the people who reside in the village the author lives in, their history to the place and the human relationships. In the book there are some notables who pass through. In the first paragraph of this chapter he writes:

Every neighborhood has a genealogy of engaging people, often eccentric and sometimes seemingly ordinary. The buildings that are a neighborhood's most prominent feature are merely representative of the people who occupy them. The are erected, demolished, rebuilt, sold, and passed down according to the sucesses, failures, and whims of their inhabitants. Even the plainest postwar subdivision likely has a cast of characters in its past; a farmer and his crops, an enterprising developer, soldiers returning from war, perhaps women who worked in defense plants. Like Collinsville, such places may appear ordinary, but facination pulses just below the surface of the houses and streets we see everyday.

My own work with genealogists has been limited. I hate to say that I have had a stronger bias towards the academic over the genealogist, despite the latter's greater efforts to preserve and support archives. I do remember working at the University of Florida library's microfilm department as a student when the genealogists came in to scour over the Florida census microfilm and one elderly woman was over the moon to discover a distant relative was a mule trader. An ordinary mule trader. And now, I get just as excited discovering the ordinary neighbors of the past, who lived in what is now Truxton Circle.

With a family genealogy, almost no one asks why someone does it. There is very little to prove to anyone outside of the family, unless trying for membership to the DAR. Family members are aware of the past without necessarily being trapped by it. I come from a line of Southern farmers, farm hands, slaves and sharecroppers, the Help, from loggers and lumbermen. My agricultural experience is that of one 4-H project and backyard gardening and the Help works with small slinder pieces of wood called pencils.

I've been throwing around the idea of creating an e-book based on this idea of a TC neighborhood genealogy. Mainly because the audience for this would be very, very small. But I've got to learn a little bit more about e-books (besides being able to read them on your Kindle), and if anyone knows more about them please contact me via the comments.